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Family Court reform set to begin

Hon Judith Collins
Minister of Justice

27 November 2012 Media Statement
Family Court reform set to begin

Justice Minister Judith Collins has today introduced legislation to Parliament to modernise the family justice system and make it more accessible to those who need it most.

Ms Collins says the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill is the first important step to creating a modern and accessible family justice system that is more focused on the needs of children and vulnerable people.

“It is important to concentrate on putting the needs of children first, and our reforms will support parents to resolve their simple parenting and relationship issues outside court.

“We are also improving support for vulnerable victims of domestic violence by increasing the penalty for breaching a protection order, recognising ‘economic abuse’ as a form of psychological abuse, and improving stopping domestic violence programmes,” Ms Collins says.

The cost to the taxpayer of running the Family Court grew 70 per cent in the past six years, from $84 million to $142 million per year, despite the overall number of applications to the Court remaining steady.

“Our changes will make the Family Court a more efficient and effective part of the wider justice system.

“These reforms are the most significant changes to the family justice system since the Court was established in 1981. However, core features of the current system will not change – people still have entitlement to legal aid, and immediate access to the Court in emergency situations,” Ms Collins says.

Key features of the Family Court reforms are:

• A new Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) service to help parents and families settle disputes about their children and get on with their lives more quickly.
• Expansion of the successful Parenting through Separation course.
• Simplified and streamlined court processes, for example, Care of Children applications will follow one of three new court ‘tracks,’ depending on the complexity and urgency of the case.
• Improved information and easy-to-use forms to help people navigate the court system independently in simple matters.
• Increasing the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order from two years to three years imprisonment.
• Improving stopping domestic violence treatment programmes.
• Extending the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act to include ‘economic abuse’.

After its first reading, the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill will be referred to select committee where anyone with an interest in the family justice system will have an opportunity to have their say on the Bill.

More information about the Family Court reform is available at www.justice.govt.nz.

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