3 News 2 August 2012
The Family Court is about to undergo its first major overhaul since its inception 30 years ago, saying $70 million over the next four years. Free counselling will be cut and parents will instead pay an $897 fee for dispute resolution – and often be expected to represent themselves in court. For a long time the Family Court has fought criticism of being a sluggish, expensive and biased institution. “At the moment, if a matter goes into the Family Court here is no real anticipation that anyone is going to come out of that process happy,” says Justice Minister Judith Collins. So to improve the mood and cut the costs, the Government wants fewer cases before the court and more dealt with through mandatory dispute resolution – that people pay for themselves. “People are going to have to pay $897 to help sort out arrangements for the children,” says barrister Catriona Maclennan. “I just think that’s a backwards step.” The six hours free counselling currently on offer will be cut. “Doing this has the potential to backfire and actually cause us more costs, as we need to support the children with other psychological counselling services,” says NZ Counsellors Association spokesman Antony McFelin. Victims of domestic violence will be exempt from dispute resolution.
Fears children will lose out in Family Court changes
There are fears children will suffer if sweeping cuts to the Family Court system go ahead. After a lengthy review process, the Government is due to announce changes to the court this week, and some working in child welfare are worried. The Ministry of Justice concedes that the current system ignores children’s needs, but RadioLIVE spoke to people working within the family court system who say the changes may not help. Family counselling may become means-tested, or cut altogether, along with the current system of appointing a lawyer for children in a court case. More cases are likely to be diverted away from the courts towards mediation. Insiders say that process is still adversarial and hurtful to children, who often don’t understand what’s going on or how it will affect them.