Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 November 2019
FAMILY JUSTICE REFORMS
New Zealand is beginning its third cycle of Family Justice Reforms. The first cycle was in 1980, when it moved to a specialist Family Court with a team of expert counsellors and judges who were given the authority to have mediation conferences. This was done in the hope that the parties would have the opportunity to discuss their differences, particularly over their children, in a civilised manner with the support of counsellors first, and then judges who ran mediation conferences. Lawyers were required under section 9 of the Family Proceedings Act 1980 when advising clients on matters involving their children to encourage reconciliation, and if that was not possible, to consider conciliation. The 1980 Reforms also recognised that if matters were going to go to court, children would need to be represented by what was then called ‘counsel for the child,’ whom it was mandatory to appoint if the matter was likely to go to a hearing unless there was to be no good purpose to it. The Court also had access to expert psychologists who would write reports for the Court and be appointed by the Court to inform it about the child and the child's well-being. The aspiration was that with what was called a ‘team’ approach, families could be supported through the difficult transition of a break-up.
In 2014, radical changes were made to the system put in place in 1980. The primary driver of concern was cost, namely the cost of counselling provided by the state, the cost of counsel for the child which was largely paid for by the state and the cost of legal aid for lawyers which, whilst only a loan that must be repaid, appeared to be growing in cost. There was a perception that lawyers were becoming adversarial and were dragging out proceedings in the Family Court and adding to the cost. The 2014 Reforms put in place a system whereby if it was a simple matter involving a matter of what is called contact in New Zealand (visitation in other countries), the parties are to represent themselves with no lawyer. State-provided counselling was removed and replaced by Family Dispute Resolution under the Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013. Parties had to pay to attend and the emphasis was on mediation run by private services.