Critics speak out against proposed Family Court reforms
Fri 14 Dec 2012
Christine Bristol has spoken out against changes proposed in the Family Court reform bill. These include removing the current provision that ...
Christine Bristol has spoken out against changes proposed in the Family Court reform bill. These include removing the current provision that Judges may not order custody or unsupervised access to a former partner who has abused their partner, a child or both unless they are satisfied that the children are safe.
Christine Bristol's three daughters, all aged under 10, were killed by her violent ex-husband Alan in in 1994. He then committed suicide. Alan Bristol had shared custody despite her repeated reports of domestic violence and he was facing charges of assaulting her.
Previous Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier described the reasons for the introduction of the clause here, saying "This served to correct some of the general views that had been held up until that point which considered inter-spousal violence quite separately to an assessment of the welfare and best interests of the children."
The clauses which replace the current provision make no specific reference to child safety. Instead, the bill refers to a "first principle" that the child's safety must be put first, which critics say is "too loose". One clause in the bill talks of "a more flexible and proportionate response to allegations of violence".
Research by three Auckland University academics suggests courts are predisposed to awarding 50-50 shared care in custody disputes and sometimes downplay the significance of domestic violence.
Northland family lawyers have also spoken out against the proposed changes, saying cutting access to the Family Court is cutting access to justice. They highlight that the biggest impacts are likely to fall on people who are the most vulnerable, particularly women and children experiencing abuse.
They warn that the proposed Family Dispute Resolution system would place women in violent relationships at risk. They also warn of the exacerbation of the power imbalance in couples where one person could afford to pay for a lawyer on the side and the other can't.
The lawyers are placing ads in major newspapers and have started a petition opposing the proposed changes.
Submissions on the proposed Family Court reforms are due on 13 February 2013. For more information, click here.
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