News Item

April 2016

Taking Stock of Family Justice Reforms

University of Otago Evaluates 2014 Family Law Reform

The 2014 Family Court reforms fundamentally changed the ways that separated couples gain access to the family justice system. Having had two years to settle in, a comprehensive study on how well the reforms are working is now underway, thanks to Law Foundation funding.

A research team from the University of Otago is commencing a three-year, $400,000 study of parents’ and practitioners’ experiences of post-separation family dispute resolution. Faculty of Law Dean and Research Co-investigator Professor Mark Henaghan says that based on anecdotal feedback, the new process is not working well. This research intends to find out the actual story.

He says the Justice Ministry strongly supports the research and, under the Foundation’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry, the project will receive support to provide access to information necessary to assist the research.

The team, including Associate Professor Nicola Taylor and researcher Megan Gollop of Otago’s Children’s Issues Centre, will conduct nationwide online surveys and interviews by telephone and face-to-face with separated parents who have made arrangements for their children’s care since the reforms began in March 2014.

They will question participants on the dispute resolution pathways they used, their children’s participation in decisions, their satisfaction with the stability of arrangements reached, and their experiences of the services and professionals they used. Researchers will also attempt to identify participants who have chosen not to engage with the new processes and find out why. Professionals working in the family justice sector will also be surveyed.

The project follows an initial scoping study also funded by the Law Foundation. The first phase included liaison with stakeholders and experts to help establish research priorities for the current project.

Professor Henaghan says it’s crucially important that the outcomes of major systemic reforms are comprehensively examined, especially given that the lives of children and families are at stake.

The Law Foundation has awarded up to $400,000 towards supporting this project.


Ebborn Law Run Community Seminars on Family Justice Law Reforms

The Law Foundation has also helped fund a series of seminars aimed at explaining the reformed family justice system to community groups.

Last year a Christchurch specialist Family Law firm, Ebborn Law, ran seminars throughout the country aimed at educating the community about the family law changes and the family justice system. They were so well attended by community service providers and the public, that Ebborn Law was prompted to run a further seminar series across the country; this time with support from the Law Foundation. Seven workshops were run in March/April 2016.

Information related to the seminar series is now freely available online via this link on the Ebborn Law website. This includes information on the following topics: Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) mediation; Parenting Through Separation courses; Triaging and Legal Pathways; Family Legal Advice Service; McKenzie Friends; Domestic Violence; Court Documentation; Victims of Violence Act; Vulnerable Children Act; Issues for seniors (PPPR, EPA); Care of Children Act; Changes to the CYFS Act; Adoption and Wh?ngai.

The Law Foundation awarded up to $10,000 towards supporting the additional seminars.