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New Zealand Family Court Custody & Access Issues

This page is a collection of bits and pieces about the politics and research related to the NZ Family Court.

This is an old page, and many of the links may have expired.

Elsewhere on this site you'll find:

Recent Family Court-Related Information:

Use the search box on the right to find numerous items about the Family Court and the Care of Children Bill.

Report on New Zealand Family Court to the Social Services Select Committee by His Honour, Principal Family Court Judge Mahony, Wednesday 16th May 2001. (38 KB PDF).

Family Court of Injustice June 2001 North & South article by Lauren Quaintance (61 KB PDF)

Evidence of gender bias in family law? In the NZ Herald 14th May 2003, Judge Mahony wrote: "A report from the Law Commission has concluded that there is no evidence of gender bias in the Family Court". He is referring to Report 82, Dispute Resolution in the Family Court. The report discusses claims of gender bias in the Family Court, being generally fairly dismissive. It could be argued that the report's self-imposed limitations are themselves indicative of bias.

Centre for Public Policy Evaluation Issues Paper No.12, Inclusion or Exclusion II: Why the Family Court Protests?

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The Father & Child Society is an umbrella organisation for a number of regional groups supporting fathers. Through our member groups we hear numerous stories of fathers feeling that they face barriers. Many of these relate to family law, to the point where many fathers believe that the Family Court is weighted against men. I have had many years personal experience of working with men in Nelson. I get the signal that, when a marriage or long-term partnership breaks up, and particularly when children are involved, the majority of men feel powerless. They feel that the systems work against them, and that women have all the power and control. They have a strong impression that the court system and society favours women. In my experience, and contrary to the stereotype, very few dads are deadbeat dads. I find that, before leaving home, the dads I see have tried everything they can. They also say, "The kids need their mums". They nearly always recognise the value of mothers. Unfortunately, though, through the wider Family Court system and its affiliated network of lawyers and counsellors many dads get very little contact with their children, often only two hours a week. This is not enough to maintain close relationships. Today's men recognise the importance of being a real dad.

Landmark review of the Courts system The Minister responsible for the Law Commission the Hon Margaret Wilson encourages ordinary New Zealanders to take the opportunity to have a say on how the Courts system can be improved. Striking the Balance: Preliminary Paper 51, downloadable in 3 parts (document, reference section, submission booklet) as pdf files.

A Vision for the future: New Zealand's Child Legislation in the 21st Century. presented by the Hon Margaret Wilson Child at the Law Conference 18th April 2002. "The role of the Family Court has grown since its establishment in 1980. However, negative perceptions of the Family Court have been attracting increasing attention in the media and with some members of the public."

Centre for Public Policy Evaluation submission on the Law Commission's Paper on Family Court dispute resolution:

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The information presented in the Paper is worrying. It includes a highly selective sampling of the literature, places too great an emphasis on debatable claims, and misrepresents some of the information in the source documents. Unfortunately this does not signal that the final report will be scholarly, balanced and well informed. Respectfully, I believe that the authors need to step back from their material, keep an open mind and widen their coverage of the literature.

Father & Child Trust submission on the Law Commission's Paper on Family Court dispute resolution:

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First, changes in social policy and the law need to be supported by a solid body of well-designed research. In designing high quality research, thought needs to be given to the composition of the research team as we have seen recent New Zealand research on fathers which has not been inclusive. The lives of many men have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades in New Zealand, and we need to hear more directly the "voices" of a wide variety of men and not just those in powerful positions within business and government. We are particularly concerned about the lack of reliable information on processes and outcomes of the Family Court. Unlike other areas of the law, the operation of the Family Court is not open to public scrutiny. While there are issues of confidentiality to be considered, overall we believe that public scrutiny assists in the process of delivering fair and equitable decisions. Second, much of the language that discussions of family change takes place in often reflects increasingly outdated and inappropriate concepts.

Statistics New Zealand's Definition Of Family, Its Implications For The Accuracy Of Data And Effectiveness Of Policy Targeting by Robert Hodgson And Stuart Birks
The NZSCHF definition of 'family' used for data gathering purposes assumes the family to be household based. This statistical concept is vastly different from the meaning of family in a social, cultural, or biological sense. The current NZSCHF definition causes distortions in the perception, analysis and interpretation of data. Distortions occur when people participate in more than one household and with the existence of inter-household or non-existence of intra-household transfers. The definition also fails to identify family types such as blended families; as a result they are essentially invisible in the statistics. These distortions have implications for studies on income distribution, family structures and many others that use data arising from these definitions. They also have implications for the development and targeting of Government policy. The data are inconsistent with the definition of family used in other areas in New Zealand, such as for immigration, and with international conventions. Also the definitions are inconsistent with those of foreign statistical agencies, bringing into question the relevance of inter-country comparisons.

Children's and parents' experience of contact after divorce. Although law and practice strongly encourage contact with the absent parent after divorce or separation, little is known about how contact is experienced or negotiated by children and parents. This study by the Centre for Research on the Child and Family at the University of East Anglia looked at what factors make contact work or not. The research found that:

Children likely to be better adjusted in joint vs sole custody arrangements in most cases. Living situation not as influential as time spent with parent  Children from divorced families who either live with both parents at different times or spend certain amounts of time with each parent are better adjusted in most cases than children who live and interact with just one parent, according to new research on custody arrangements and children's adjustment. Psychologist Robert Bauserman, Ph.D. conducted a meta-analysis of 33 studies between 1982 to 1999 that examined 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children. The studies compared child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody with sole-custody settings and 251 intact families. Joint custody was defined as either physical custody - where a child spends equal or substantial amounts of time with both parents or shared legal custody - where a child lives with primarily one parent but both parents are involved in all aspects of the child's life. This article was published in the March 2002 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). Full news article. The paper: "Child Adjustment in Joint-Custody Versus Sole-Custody Arrangements: A Meta-Analytic Review" (PDF) by Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; was published in the Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 16, No. 1.

For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, by E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly. Reviewed by Maggie Gallagher. Mavis Hetherington is one of the [USA] nation's most respected research psychologists. Her new book has been marketed as a rebuttal to divorce critics, who - she believes - have overestimated the negative effects of divorce and downplayed its benefits. This book is a report for lay readers on three different - and important - long-running studies designed to assess the effects of divorce. The studies ultimately involved 1,400 families; in other words, when it comes to the case against the case against divorce, this is as good as it gets...But what about the kids? Should parents contemplating divorce relax? On this issue, the results reported in For Better or for Worse are consistent with a large and growing social-science literature: Even among advantaged, middle-class white children, divorce doubles the risk that 20 years later the grown children will experience serious social, emotional, and/or psychological dysfunction. "Twenty-five percent of youths from divorced families in comparison to 10 percent from non-divorced families did have serious social, emotional, or psychological problems." Money didn't matter: Even when family incomes were similar, children from disrupted homes had more long-term dysfunction. (link to full review) March 25, 2002.

The Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Certain Family Law Issues: Five years later paper by Robert Kelso    (link to PDF)
In November 1994, the Australian parliament tabled the report of the Joint Select Committee on Certain Family Law Issues (JSC Report). Five years and many cosmetic changes later, the Child Support Agency (CSA), politicians, and bureaucrats, have yet to address the more fundamental legal and administrative problems exposed in the report. Rather than address the substantive issues, such as the illegal activities by CSA officers, the conflicts of interests and the 'appalling client service delivery', the government, through legislative changes, and the CSA, through administrative reform, have strengthened compliance and collection procedures while trying to protect those areas of their operations, general administration, complaints and reviews, of which the Report was so critical. This paper explores issues raised in the JSC Report, particularly those legal, constitutional and ethical concerns which the CSA and governments have sought to avoid.

Public Policies and Procedures that Work Against the Two Parent Family. Many questions have been raised about how families can be affected by public policies. These questions probe at issues affecting both family formation and family dissolution. For example, is the two-parent family weakened or discouraged by tax policies that reduce the economic value of marriage and children, such as the declining economic value of the dependent child deduction and the marriage penalty? Similar questions are asked about program policies which seem to encourage single parenthood: Does the AFDC eligibility policy which requires resident fathers to have a work history in order for the family to receive benefits reduce a poor couples willingness to marry or stay married?

Questions are now also being raised about policies that might reduce the chances for reconciliation when couples are having difficulties or increase the level of conflict for couples that are attempting to co-parent after a separation or divorce has occurred. For example, does the winner-take-all orientation of the legal system increase conflict rather than resolve conflict between parents? However, these new questions about how public policies might exacerbate post-marital problems are as difficult to document from a research perspective as are the questions surrounding family formation and dissolution.

In Sight Collection Tracking the Dismantling of the American Family. Right now, at this exhausted stage of the family wars, it is becoming increasingly obvious that child support doesn't work. In fact, we have inadvertently created a mythical enemy in this fray, the Non-Custodial Parent. Which usually translates to: Divorced Dad. This website is called the In Sight Collection in honor of the fathers (and sometimes, mothers) who are in the sights of those who hold the weapons. Nothing is more tragic than a child ripped untimely from the arms of a parent. Includes:

Divorce-Related Malicious Mother Syndrome. Ira Daniel Turket, PhD With the increasing commonality of divorce involving children, a pattern of abnormal behavior has emerged that has received little attention. The present paper defines the Divorce Related Malicious Mother Syndrome. Specific nosologic criteria are provided with abundant clinical examples. Given the lack of scientific data available on the disorder, issues of classification, etiology, treatment, and prevention appear ripe for investigation.

Parental Alienation

Parent Alienation Syndrome Report Peggie Ward, Ph.D. (a member of the Advisory Council of the Professional Academy of Custody Evaluators or PACE) and J. Campbell Harvey, J.D. Parental alienation is the creation of a singular relationship between a child and one parent, to the exclusion of the other parent. The fully alienated child is a child who does not wish to have any contact whatsoever with one parent and who expresses only negative feelings for that parent and only positive feelings for the other parent. This child has lost the range of feelings for both parents that is normal for a child.

Creative Therapeutics Has information about new and upcoming books, tapes and diagnostic and therapeutic instruments from the late Richard A. Gardner, M.D., who first described PAS. Includes material on learning disabilities, divorce and custody issues, assessing child sex-abuse accusations, Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Family Court Related Links

New Zealand

Citizen's Advice Bureau: Breakdown of Relationships a simple explanation of the New Zealand system.

New Zealand Family Court website: http://www.courts.govt.nz/family/
You'll be encouraged to read: "By law, both parents can apply for custody of the children. If there is a risk that one partner will take the children away or harm them, the other can ask the Court for sole custody. "
But beware: "the Family Court and the Department for Courts accept no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to the material on this website. Visitors to this website are advised that: The material it contains is information of a general nature only, and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual or entity.... The views expressed in the papers and reports that are provided on this site are those of the author. The Family Court and the Department for Courts do not necessarily endorse the views of a particular author or authenticate the accuracy of the information provided." Of particular interest may be the pages Practice Notes, and Family Court Papers and Reports considering issues related to New Zealand family law and the Family Court of New Zealand. In March 2002 they court began posting a series of case histories, however these are far from a representative sample of what actually goes on.

Complaints about Court staff:
Fiona Saunders-Francis
Manager of Operations and Judicial Support
Department For Courts
PO Box 2750, Wellington


Divorce Help Here is an extremely helpful site written by a divorce attorney of 25 years experience http://www.divorcehelp.com/ It is a US site but is tells people how to avoid the adversarial family court system - it is very helpful to people before they go near the Family Court.