Take action against imposing damaging reforms in the Family Court

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Take action against imposing damaging reforms in the Family Court

This petition had 746 supporters


TO THE NEW ZEALAND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

We ask that the House of Representatives take action against imposing certain reforms in the New Zealand Family Court. We ask Parliament to:

1) Not implement changes to the Family Court system that will place restrictions on the right for people to have a Lawyer represent them in proceedings involving the care of children or any proceedings in the Family Court; 

2) Not implement changes to the Family Court system that will restrict the ability of a Judge to appoint Lawyer for a Child in proceedings, even proceedings that are not regarded as serious cases; 

3) Not reduce the availability of Legal Aid in proceedings in the Family Court including those cases involving the care of children; and 

4) Not to impose a fee for parties to enter the Family Dispute Resolution process to ensure that the process is not inaccessible and will not prevent matters resolving in a timely and child focused way.

REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD SIGN THIS PETITION

WHAT DOES THE FAMILY COURT CURRENTLY DO?

The Family Court of New Zealand deals with a wide range of issues many of which involve the care of children. The Family Court aims to help people sort out their own issues during a divorce or separation and that the interests of children are represented.

It has provided free counselling and mediation to help parents and guardians reach agreement regarding care arrangements for children. A Family Court hearing before a judge is a last resort if parents cannot agree. Currently if a court is deciding day to day care or contact issues with a child, the court must appoint a lawyer for the child (at no cost to the parties) to ascertain the children’s views and all issues relevant to their welfare and best interests are presented to the court. Social workers and psychologists also provide important information to the court about the child.

Currently the parents or guardians can also have lawyers represent them in court proceedings. In fact, the Ministry of Justice on their website (http://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/family-court/Coming-to-Court) advise people to first seek legal advice before filing an application or defending a case in the Family Court.

THE ANNOUNCED CHANGES TO FAMILY COURT PROCESSES

On 27 November 2012, the Minister Judith Collins introduced the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill to Parliament. It has been referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee for public submissions.

The Bill makes major changes to proceedings involving the care of children. The most significant proposal from the Government’s perspective is the introduction of Family Dispute Resolution (FDR). FDR providers are people or organisations outside the core public sector that provide family dispute resolution services. The bill requires that a person attend an approved FDR provider for certain disputes about the care of children before they can apply to the Family Court to resolve the dispute. According to Judith Collins, FDR will enable people to make arrangements to resolve disputes among themselves sooner and less acrimoniously than court and avoid damaging conflict to children.

We support the Government's rationale of protecting children and vulnerable people, and the creation of an efficient justice system. However, we are particularly concerned that the following aspects of the Bill will have a negative impact on families, children and vulnerable people in family disputes:

1) All parties to a dispute over children must use the Family Dispute Resolution Service with fees of $897. In most cases it is currently free to access the Family Court and its counselling services. This will all change if the Bill becomes law on 1 October 2013. If people cannot afford the new fees(or do not qualify for the limited grounds for a subsidy of the fee or exemption) or they do not use an approved family dispute resolution provider, their case cannot be heard by a Family Court judge.  

2) Lawyer for children appointments will be limited. These appointments will be limited only to cases that go before the Court and where child safety issues are evident or it is necessary for the wellbeing of the child. Lawyers will not be able to represent children in the FDR process. There is a risk that children’s concerns will be overlooked and silenced in decisions relating to them. 

3) People will have limited rights to have lawyers act for them. People will no longer have the choice to have a lawyer act for them unless proceedings are started with an urgent application or a Judge directs a Court hearing. Legal Aid will not be available in those other cases and Court staff cannot advise people on matters of law. 

Many people will not be able to complete Court documents or represent themselves without legal assistance for a variety of reasons, including: stress, intimidation, language barriers, health, and confidence issues. Access to lawyers will be denied for most disputes over children even where there is domestic violence, sexual abuse, and drug/alcohol issues.

If families are denied access to justice then children will continue to be caught in the middle of their parents’ conflict. The overall welfare of children will be affected.

The Government should address these concerns as the Bill passes through the legislative process.

Stop the Government making these harmful changes to the Family Court

1) Sign our petition; and

2) Prepare written submissions to Parliament by 13 February 2013.  Visit www.parliament.nz and follow the Select Committee Link.

 For more information on how to make a submission or about our campaign, visit www.childrenneedavoice.com.



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