Symposium looks at Family Court future

The New Zealand Law Society’s Family Law Section is hosting a Symposium at Parliament on Friday, 3 June on the future of the Family Court.

The day-long symposium is being attended by lawyers, counsellors, psychologists and mediators involved in the Family Court, as well as Judges of the High Court and Family Court, Justice Minister Simon Power and government officials.

Its objective is to provide an early opportunity to explore creative solutions to address Mr Power’s concerns about pressures on funding the Family Court. The Minister has said he will be releasing a discussion paper which proposes reforms to the Court in September.

Family Law Section Chair Antony Mahon says that the Government’s fiscal constraints are acknowledged and a proper review of the Family Court processes is welcomed. However, it is essential to ensure that the review is undertaken in a considered way, within a realistic time frame which allows for proper consultation and collaboration with all Family Court participants.

“Because the Family Court is obliged to protect the most vulnerable members of society, it is vital that the Court has the tools necessary to achieve this through specialised representation of children and parents, well targeted conciliation processes, and timely Judicial intervention - all of which requires proper resourcing,” he says.

Mr Mahon says a recent report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science advisor estimates that 25% of children will experience problems as they grow up which will affect the rest of their lives.

“Family separation is one of those events which, if not managed carefully, can be extremely damaging to children. For the children who are the subject of the 25,000 applications made to the Family Court each year seeking orders about care arrangements, it is vital that Family Court is effective and protective,” he says.

“New Zealand has a world renowned Family Court and we do not wish to see this model sacrificed on the altar of fiscal constraint.”

Mr Mahon says the Family Law Section represents 1,000 family lawyers in New Zealand and welcomes the opportunity to continue to develop ideas with the Minister, his officials and other Family Court professionals in anticipation of the release of the discussion document in September.

“We really appreciate the commitment Mr Power has made to attending our symposium,” he says. “We are confident that he understands the complex nature of family dispute and would like his legacy to be a strengthening of the parts of the Family Court which have worked so well for 30 years and is highly respected and copied in other countries.”