12 Jun 2012

Fees introduced for Family Court disputes

1:52 pm on 12 June 2012

Feuding couples will soon have to pay hundreds of dollars to have civil disputes settled through the Family Court.

The fees will be introduced on 1 July and will apply only to child care disputes and division of assets.

A couple will have to pay $220 to help settle issues relating to child care arrangements, while disagreements about dividing up assets will cost $700 to lodge and incur a hearing fee of $906 for each half day.

Family Court costs have increased by more than 70% to $142 million over the past six years.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows says the change is designed to act as a disincentive to bringing children into the court process.

"Any of us who have been in the criminal justice and the Family Court system for a long time have seen children used as weapons by squabbling parents ... and we're just putting a little fence in the road of that."

Family Court counsellor Hillary Smith says children will suffer while couples try to resolve matters outside the courtroom to avoid paying the costs.

However Mr Borrows says the registrar is able to waive the fee in cases of hardship.

Law Society family law section chairman Garry Collin told Morning Report that certain types of cases need court intervention.

"There are a number of matters that can't be settled without the intervention of the court; where there's been violence, the need for protection, children have been unilaterally removed from one city to another or a parent is preventing contact."

Mr Collin says the Law Society believes court fees for property matters are fair but that they should not be applied to matters of children's care.

He says charging a fee for such matters can prevent couples going to court when they really should do so.

Mark Henaghan, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Otago, says making people pay upfront could make them less likely to settle.

He told Nine to Noon the Family Court involves counselling and mediation, with the court itself a last resort, and a fee would be a disincentive to engage in the process,

Professor Henaghan says the criteria for deciding how fees might we waived are unclear