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Family court changes likely to hit kids hardest

Andrew

LITTLE

Justice Spokesperson

27 March 2014 MEDIA STATEMENT

Family court changes likely to hit kids hardest

Changes to the way Family Court cases are run are unlikely to improve resolution rates of family disputes, and could make things much worse, Labour's Justice spokesperson Andrew Little says.

The government's reforms limit access to legal advice and legal aid, make it harder for children of separating couples to be individually represented and include mandatory mediation, except in cases where violence is alleged.

"Make no mistake. The changes to the Family Court have little to do with improving resolution rates. They are mostly about saving money on legal aid and children's representation.

"At the moment around 80 per cent of cases going to the Family Court are resolved without going before a judge. The parties, including affected children, are represented throughout and have access to legal advice, and most cases are settled.

"The cases going to court are the difficult and intractable ones, or are cases where domestic violence is a factor.

"The idea that couples and their children forced into mediation without equal access to legal advice, and with only the separating parents and a mediator on a fixed fee involved in the discussion, will somehow achieve a better result than we get now requires an extraordinary leap of faith.

"Mediators in the new process cannot give legal advice and have an incentive to achieve an agreement in the shortest amount of time possible. This will hardly give people confidence in any agreement they are being asked to sign.

"My pick is a lot of agreements will be made that parties are not committed to. I cannot imagine the damage this will do them and children whose voices will be largely silenced in the process.

"Labour in Government will review the operation of the new procedures and ensure parties in family court proceedings, including children, have proper access to legal advice and the conditions for negotiating agreements are safe.

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