Family Court changes to help reduce delays
A shake-up of the Family Court would see a counselling and mediation service established to handle disputes, freeing up judges for the most high-risk and complex cases.
Chief Family Court Judge Peter Boshier outlined the proposals in a speech to the Auckland Family Courts Association last night, saying the changes would help to reduce delays in the system.
A court “intake consultant” – a position that could be filled by Family Court co-ordinators – would assess each case and decide whether to refer it straight to the court or conciliation. At present, most cases were referred automatically for counselling, which proceeded to mediation and then court if the dispute could not be resolved.
Only cases where there was a risk to children’s welfare – such as allegations of sexual abuse or violence – should enter the Family Court directly and be “closely managed and determined by judges”, said Judge Boshier.
Auckland family lawyer Brian Gubb supported the proposals, saying they would speed the court process and remove some of the “more destructive aspects of the adversarial process”. It should also save money for the parties involved.
Antony Mahon, chairman of the Auckland Family Courts Association, said the proposals were “quite innovative” and had his support provided they were adequately funded and trained staff filled the new roles.
Darrell Carlin, spokesman for the Union of Fathers, said the group was keen to see a faster court process. At present there was no incentive for women to go through mediation as they knew they would win in court.
He supported more mediation, provided that equal shared custody was the “default position”.
National Women’s Refuge spokeswoman Lesley Melrose said it was vital that counsellors remained impartial and women did not feel pressured to agree to things they were not happy with.