27 Nov 2022

Family court further victimises the vulnerable - advocates

6:52 pm on 27 November 2022
Paper people chain, books and judge's gavel. Law, family politics and gay marriage legalization.

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A group advocating for urgent changes to the family court says parents are forced to come face to face with abusive ex-partners, even if a protection order is in place.

Humans of Family Court Aotearoa launched a billboard campaign to promote awareness about faults it said meant the system did not work well for most New Zealanders.

It wants the family court to consistently apply the Family Violence Act so parents and children were protected from their abusers.

Humans of Family Court spokesperson Jody Hopkinson said currently the family court does not do this, and it ignores the abuse parents and children have experienced.

That included breaching parenting and protection orders, which allowed abuse to continue throughout the court process, she said.

"You can be sitting one metre away from a man who has raped and hit you, and you have a protection order against him, and a mediator in the family court will force you to sit there and talk about who's paying for Johnny's socks."

Lawyers and judges in the family court also dismiss, mock and minimise parents' experiences of abuse, Hopkinson said.

"Women will talk about abusive situations that their children have been put in, or things that the unsafe parent has done to them, and their own lawyers will say 'nah, nah, don't put that in, the court doesn't want to hear that, the court doesn't like that stuff'."

Victims of abuse were told they would come across as bitter toward their ex-partner, and that if they raised issues of abuse they would be more likely to have their children taken from them, Hopkinson said.

An online survey of 350 people conducted by Humans of Family Court Aotearoa showed 80 per cent of women said domestic violence or abuse occurred in their relationship before they entered the family court - and 61 per cent of women said the experience of going through the family court made them feel less safe.

The Ministry of Justice said it was implementing recommendations from an independent review in 2019 but "transformation of family justice is a five to ten-year project".

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