MIL OSI – Source: New Zealand Government – More parents resolving disputes outside court Almost 70 per cent of family disputes referred to mediation involving children are being settled out of court a year on from the Government’s family justice reforms says Justice Minister Amy Adams. The reforms, which have been in effect for a year tomorrow, place out-of-court community-based resolution services at the heart of the system to resolve family disputes about the care of children. Ms Adams says the reforms have delivered a modern, accessible family justice system that encourages parents to reach out-of-court agreements about arrangements for the care of their children. The suite of reforms was the biggest overhaul since the Family Court was established in 1981. “The new system is reducing the stress experienced by families and children, by avoiding the delays, conflict and expense that court proceedings entail through greater use of out-of-court mediation,” says Ms Adams. The centrepiece of the reforms is the new Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) service where, working with mediators, parents sort out disputes about the care of their children. “FDR is proving highly successful, of the 905 disputes referred to FDR in the last year, 68 per cent of mediations resolved all matters, and a further 18 per cent resolved some matters. “Almost seven out of ten disputes referred to mediation are being resolved without having to go to court which is reducing the inevitable stress children and families face when their parents separate. It also means the Family Court can now focus on the most difficult cases, especially those involving family violence, that require judicial expertise,” says Ms Adams. Ms Adams said there was a strong focus on family violence. “With these reforms bedding in, family violence remains a priority area. The reforms have refocused the system and mean we’re now able to concentrate on the more difficult matters,” says Ms Adams. The reforms relate to Care of Children Act matters, which account for about 40 per cent of Family Court applications. While most cases are now initially referred to FDR, urgent matters (e.g., disputes that involve domestic violence or abuse) continue to go straight to the Family Court, where all parties are entitled to legal representation and, if eligible, to legal aid. Fewer applications are being filed in the court since the reforms were implemented. The number of active applications on hand at 31 January 2015 since 31 March 2014 has reduced by 12 per cent. Background A Ministry of Justice review of family justice in 2011 found court processes were complex, uncertain and too slow. There was a lack of focus on children and vulnerable people, and not enough support to assist parties to resolve parenting and relationship issues out-of-court. For those participants who are eligible for government funding (an estimated 60 per cent of participants) their share of Family Dispute Resolution is fully funded by the government. Those participants who are not eligible for full funding can access the Family Dispute Resolution service for no more than $897 (including GST) from government providers. Key statistics:
- In the year 31 March 2014 to 2 March 2015;
- 2348 assessments were completed. Of these, 1278 were suitable for Family Dispute Resolution.
- There were 793 exemptions.
- 905 mediations were held with 68 per cent resolving all matters. A further 18 per cent resolved some matters.
- Only 14 per cent had no issues resolved.
- 5,199 people have completed Parenting through Separation courses
- 4,033 people have accessed the new Family Legal Advice Service;
- There have been almost 4 million page views on the Family Justice website (www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice)