Committee reports on Family Court Matters Bill
Hon Rick Barker
Minister for Courts
Select Committee reports on Family Court Matters Bill
Courts Minister, Rick Barker has welcomed the Social Services Select Committee report on the Family Court Matters Bill and is now looking forward to the Bill's second reading.
The Family Courts Matters Bill amends family law legislation to increase the openness of proceedings, provide for non-judicial mediation, and make other minor process and procedure changes designed to improve the operation of the Family Courts.
This Government responded to the Law Commission’s 2003 report on Dispute Resolution in the Family Court by piloting non-judicial mediation in 2005. Given its success, this Bill is the legislative vehicle allowing for the Courts to direct attendance and implement this as a permanent tool to help resolve relationship disputes.
"The Family Courts Matters Bill is an important piece of legislation which will have a positive impact on New Zealand families, who need to go through the Family Court process. We are always looking for ways for ways to improve and streamline Court processes and this Bill, while technical in its scope, will improve the openness and outcomes of the Family Court," Mr Barker said.
"The Bill has returned from Select Committee with some key changes, particularly around counselling services for children.
"Currently only 5-6 per cent of the Family Court's cases go to a defended hearing. However, in the small number of difficult cases where a parenting order is required, some children may need assistance to accept the terms the order. The Bill will now enable Judges in this situation to recommend children attend counselling. The purpose of this counselling is to maintain family relationships and ensure that a Court order can work in practice.
"I am also pleased that the Committee has adopted the Government’s recommendation that the Bill contain a provision giving children the right to speak with a counsellor, or take part in joint sessions with their parents. There are obvious advantages in children talking with the same person as their parents. The counsellor can make sure parents are aware of their child’s views; and involving children in their parent's counselling may help reduce conflict by focussing the issues on the child’s needs," Mr Barker said.
The Bill also introduces family or non-judicial mediation. Children will be able to attend mediation at the discretion of the mediator and Counselling will be available to help children formulate and clarify their views before taking part. The Family Court Matters Bill was introduced in 16 August 2007 and is currently awaiting its second reading having been reported back by the Social Services Select Committee.