Family Court changes to come into force today

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New laws restoring the right to legal representation in disputes over children in the Family Court come into force today.

Wellington Family Court and mediation room.

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The changes restore the right to legal representation at the start of a Care of Children dispute in the Family Court and allows parties – where eligible – to acess legal aid.

They form part of a $62 million Family Court package in Budget 2020 and reverse parts of the controversial 2014 Family Law reforms.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the changes will better support parents through court and help reduce significant delays in reaching resolutions.

“They will ensure that parents and whānau are well-supported and kept safe during Family Court proceedings, and will help address delays in the Family Court. Together these changes will better enable durable resolution of care of children disputes.”

Applications under the Care of Children Act currently take on average 245 days to resolve; resulting in emotional harm to children, and stress and anxiety to their parents and whānau.

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Little said restoring access to legal representation is expected to reduce the number of urgent parenting order applications and delays in the system.

“In addition to legal representation, we’re establishing new Family Justice Liaison Officers (FLOs) within the Family Court. These people will ensure families and whānau receive information on the best possible options available, helping them to navigate the system.

“We’re also increasing remuneration for lawyers for child to incentivise the recruitment and retention of skilled practitioners. This is the first increase to these rates since 1996 (notwithstanding GST increases). Funding increases for lawyers for child will increase each year for the next four years.”

Today’s reforms are the first implementation of recommendations set out in He Korowai Ture ā-Whānau, an independant review of the 2014 family justice reforms.

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