Deadline for Family Courts submissions to be extended

The Minister of Justice, the Hon Simon Power, has announced a four-month extension to the deadline for responding to a discussion paper on the Family Courts which is due to be released in September 2011.

Mr Power’s announcement came during his attendance at a Symposium on the Family Courts which was held at Parliament by the New Zealand Law Society’s Family Law Section.

A two-month deadline for responses to the planned discussion paper had originally been set, but Mr Power has said the deadline for responses will now be February 2012.

Family Law Section chair Antony Mahon welcomes the Minister’s announcement.

“The Government review of the Family Courts requires a considered and collaborative consultation process which needs sufficient time to be properly undertaken,” he says. “It also requires a focus group to represent the stakeholders in the Family Courts. These were two of the key messages we brought to the Symposium and we are delighted the Minister has accepted them by agreeing to extend the response deadline and to the formation of a focus group.”

Further details will be announced by Mr Power.

Mr Mahon says the Symposium was “hugely successful”. It was attended by lawyers, counsellors, psychologists and mediators, as well as Judges of the High Court and Family Courts, Mr Power and government officials. He says it permitted exploration of ideas about the ways in which the needs of both users of the Family Courts and those who fund them can be met.

“The Family Courts are accountable for the funding they receive. Our analysis of the costs suggests the current financial commitment is, on the whole, money well spent. The Family Courts are the second-busiest in New Zealand and deal with complex legal and personal issues arising from family breakdown.”

The fact that only 15.9% of parenting cases required a decision to be made by a Judge showed that funding of counsellors, psychologists, mediators and lawyers in the other 84.1% of cases was money well spent, Mr Mahon says. “Care arrangements which are the result of agreement are more durable and come at less financial and personal cost than those arrangements imposed on families.”

The Symposium generated ideas about areas where the Government might be able to make immediate, significant savings by better use of existing legislation and better targeting of Family Courts resources. Possible procedural changes which required minimal legislative amendment, but which would achieve cost savings through better practices and more efficient progression of cases, were also identified.

“Although not all ideas generated at the Symposium have been agreed to by all attendees, we welcome the divergent views because healthy debate promotes good outcomes,” Mr Mahon says. “We will now take those ideas to our members and will continue to develop them further.”

Mr Mahon says the Family Law Section will remain in discussions with the Ministry of Justice, other Family Court professionals and the yet-to-be established focus group.

“We are very keen to continue the very positive dialogue on this important institution through the opportunity the Minister of Justice has given us in hosting this Symposium,” he says.