The New Zealand Bar Association welcomes the re-establishment of access to lawyers at the start of disputes about the care of children. From 1 July 2020, parties will be able to get legal advice at the beginning of the process. The Bar Association believes that this will reduce delays for families in resolving their disputes.
The move rewinds the clock on reforms that were introduced in 2014, which meant that parties could not get legal representation from the start of care disputes. This resulted in a surge in without notice applications being filed in court. Instead of improving the system, the Family Court was overwhelmed, and the process became more stressful for families and children, resulting in long delays and uncertainty.
The Minister of Justice and Courts, Hon. Andrew Little, acknowledged that the 2020 changes will improve the resolution of care of children disputes. He said that they “… will ensure that parents and whānau are well-supported and kept safe during Family Court proceedings, will help address delays in the Family Court.”
Bar Association President, Kate Davenport QC, notes that at the time that the 2014 changes were introduced, the Bar Association’s strong view was that removing access to early legal advice would make matters worse. “Family lawyers are experienced in taking the heat out of matters and often resolve issues early in the dispute,” says Ms Davenport. “They ensure that parties understand the process before they become involved in court proceedings and have realistic expectations of the likely outcomes.”
The Association also welcomes the Minister’s announcement that the Government is increasing remuneration lawyers for the child to incentivise the recruitment and retention of skilled practitioners. “The last increase was in 1996. Over the twenty-four years since then, the monetary value of the work has decreased to the point where family practitioners are almost doing the work partly pro bono,” says Ms Davenport. “Their work needs to be recognised.”.