The Family justice system in New Zealand has had a major overhaul. The changes became law on 24 September 2013. This gave birth to “FDR” or what is and will very quickly be known as Family Dispute Resolution. The idea of the new system is that most family disputes or problems will need to be dealt with outside of the formal court set up in a pre-court mediation setting.
The changes have been effective from 31 March 2014 this year. FDR is a result of statute and so to understand the changes one will need to understand the Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013 (“the Act”). This means people experiencing family problems will need to approach a lawyer who understands the Act and is able to provide the initial family legal advice to facilitate the process for them. This initial advice may also be “free” if you qualify for government funding. This funding is quite separate from the already existing legal aid service framework under the legal services agency. The advice will provide a roadmap to the parties on how to approach the FDR process and be able to take advantage of the new system which includes mediation. The family dispute resolution provider under the new system is the mediator who will assist both parties in dispute in a mediation session.
There are exceptions to undertake FDR but only in limited circumstances such as urgent without notice application’s, obtaining consent orders or where there is violence involved to give a few examples. The mediator will formalise an agreement if the parties reach resolution which the mediator will set out in a form. The parties may then take this agreement to the Family Court for formal recognition. The dispute may continue in court should the parties not reach agreement after the FDR process.
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