Kids forced to spend time with abusers

Newshub reports:  Kids forced to spend time with abusers, damning Family Court report says

An independent anti-violence group has released a damning report on the Family Court system.

More than 600 women spoke out in the report, compiled by lobby group Backbone Collective, with more than half saying their experience of abuse wasn’t believed or responded to.

It found abuse victims are more fearful for own and their children’s safety after turning to the court, and co-author Deborah Mackenzie says the process is so draining it affects their health.

“Women talked about having anxiety, PTSD, being suicidal, miscarrying pregnancies, not being able to sleep, having eating disorders – all as a result of being stuck in the Family Court for many, many years.”

Respondents also reported being forced into mediations and children were in some cases pushed to reluctantly spend time with their abusers, the report says.

There appears to be a lot of work needed in sorting out how violence, domestic abuse and abuse of children is dealt with.

The Backbone Collective is a national coalition of survivors of Violence Against Women in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We need to call out to each other – the survivors – the women who have the words and understanding to make sense of the Violence Against Women problem.  WE can do this.  We can create a new backdrop to the way Violence Against Women is responded to. Together we can make sure that the dominant voice being heard is that of the survivors rather than the abusers…Let’s turn up the volume so the deaf ears hear us

But in April  Family court strikes back at the Backbone Collective

The Principal Family Court judge has refuted criticisms of the court made by a group of women known as the Backbone Collective, set up by a domestic abuse survivor.

The women claimed they were re-victimised by court process, that the court was not open to public or media scrutiny, and that their complaints had been brushed off.

The Backbone Collective submitted 160 questions to the Government, demanding to know why the system was letting them down.

But Family Court Judge Laurence Ryan disregarded their allegations as “premised on erroneous or flawed interpretations” of the court’s legal framework, or as having been dealt with by Parliament already.

He said that he would not respond in the way the collective sought because “combative debate that pits the judiciary against those who rely on the court’s help” would not improve outcomes.

He highlighted that the womens’ “anecdotal evidence” was a small fraction of about 60,000 applications lodged with the court each year.

The Backbone Collective called the court out for minimising allegations of family violence during periods where parenting access was being considered.

“We are not entering into combative debate as Judge Ryan suggests,” it said in a statement. “We are providing a safe way for women to tell those in authority how the system responds to them when they experience violence and abuse. We thought the Family Court would want to know that currently many women feel they are put in more danger when the Family Court is involved.”

“Surely when systems aren’t working well and safely those in charge want to know how to fix it?”

However, Ryan said the court had “mechanisms” to prevent parents who had been in violent relationships from meeting during this process.

Some of the collective had said they felt legislation meant the rights of abusive fathers trumped the safety of their children.

“Many of the questions addressed to this office relate to matters either already being actively considered by Parliament around family violence, or which have been dealt with by Parliament relatively recently,” he said.

Ryan disputed three of the collective’s broad claims.

On the court’s alleged secrecy, he noted that “more and more” court decisions were available online and that “many” of its proceedings had been reported publicly since law changes in 2004 and 2008.

In response to allegations of absent independent monitoring, Ryan said that all of the court’s decisions were open to appeal – and that judicial conduct was held accountable through an independent complaints body.

“This is the safety valve inherent in the New Zealand justice system,” he said.

Dealing with family violence will always be difficult and imperfect, but improvements should always be sought.

Ryan admitted that the court was not a perfect solution for everyone: “Not all people who are enduring broken, painful or damaged relationships and who come to court seeking resolution or justice will go away satisfied,” he said.

Societal and law enforcement attitudes to family violence have changed significantly in the last forty years in New Zealand, but rates of violence are still terrible so much more needs to be done.

See Family violence response guides launched

Family Court review

After an investigation finding a lack of efficiency and cost effectiveness the Family Court process are being reviewed.

Public feedback sought on Family Court review

Justice Minister Simon Power is calling for public feedback on a discussion document into the Government’s ground-up review of the Family Court.

“The Government is conducting this review over concerns that since 2004/05 the court’s overall costs have increased by 63 per cent (excluding judicial resourcing), from $83.9 million to $137.1 million while applications to it have remained relatively stable,” Mr Power said.

“And there’s little evidence that this huge cost increase has resulted in improved outcomes, particularly for vulnerable parties and children.

”The research is clear about the negative impact that persistent conflict has on children, and figures show that in 2009/10 it took an average of 306 days to complete a parenting order application compared to 216 days in 2006/07, an increase of 90 days.

“The escalating costs, for no apparent improvement in outcomes, indicate clearly that the Family Court is not as effective and efficient as it could be.

“A culture change is needed to encourage separating parents to resolve matters at the earliest opportunity, and before the conflict becomes entrenched in court.”

Mr Power has released a discussion document on proposed changes, with public submissions welcomed until February 29. The Public Consultation Paper can be downloaded here.

If you have been involved in proceedings in the Family Court you can contribute to a questionnaire:

Family Court Review Questionnaire

Introduction
The Ministry of Justice is undertaking a review of the Family Court.  If you would like to learn more about the review and how to make a submission, please click here  to go to the Family Court Review homepage.

As part of the review we want to hear from people who have been involved in proceedings in the Family Court or who have sought advice from a lawyer about a family dispute.

The answers to this questionnaire will help shape any proposals for change in the way family law disputes are dealt with.

Family issues that result in court action can be difficult, even traumatic. Any attempt to make it easier and less costly is worthwhile.

Mr Power says the government’s vision for the Family Court is one in which:

  • Vulnerable people and children are protected and prioritised;
  • Access is well managed without unnecessary litigation;
  • Processes are simple, clear, consistent and certain;
  • Personal responsibility is emphasised and costs are met by users , where appropriate;
  • Decisions are logical, workable and durable, and
  • The system is affordable to taxpayers.