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Family court review welcomed, but more protection needed

Family court review welcomed, but more protection needed

2 August 2012

The Green Party welcomes the emphasis on children in Family Court reforms, but is concerned families could be locked out by the cost of accessing the cornerstone dispute resolution service, which could put women and children at risk.

The Government today announced major changes to the Family Court which include some good ideas – such as extending the definition of domestic violence to include economic abuse - and rightly put the focus on the needs of children.

“But in order to put children first, you have to prioritise the safety of the parent who protects them and we don’t see enough recognition of that in the review” Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said.

“Encouraging parents to go through a disputes resolution service before heading off to the Court is, on the surface, a good idea but we are concerned about the cost – reported to be about $800 – and the danger of channelling the victims of family violence into mediation.

“Justice Minister Judith Collins has said the victims of child abuse and domestic violence will not be required to go through mediation first but, without a sophisticated triage service, it will be impossible to know who is a victim of family violence.

“To force a woman to face a violent partner in mediation is dangerous to both her and any child she is protecting. Not every woman who leaves a violent partner has a protection order in her hand.

“As for cost, the Minister has announced subsidies will be available to people who meet the legal aid threshold, but unless the subsidy covers almost all the fee, it will be prohibitive to many. Officials estimate 1200 families a year could be put off due to cost

“We will be seeking more detail on efforts to make the resolution service accessible, financially and practically, for remote rural families and those who genuinely can’t afford to pay.

“Plans to educate parents about separation and to establish clearer pathways through the court seem like good ideas.

“And, while an increase in the maximum penalty for breaching protection orders is welcome, victims of family violence report the real problem is getting the breaches taken seriously by the police, and by the court. This needs to be the first step,” Mrs Turei said.


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