For many parents, the Family Court is a terrifying prospect particularly when it involves having your life and your child’s laid out in court documents. The Family Court does however, have an important role in resolving disputes between parents and guardians.
Two Types of Application
There are two ways an application might come before the court – on notice and without notice. A without notice application is brought with a sense of urgency and requires the court to be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice an application is heard without hearing from the other side. If an order is made in such circumstances it is usually an interim or temporary order allowing a time frame for response. On notice applications in some instances require that family dispute resolution - an out of court mediation service - has occurred and a Parenting Through Separation course completed (a useful course for any parent going through a separation).
Reasons for Applications to the Court
Applications are commonly brought before the court for parenting orders – orders which set out day to day care and contact arrangements for children, guardianship disputes – where parents / guardians cannot agree on significant matters affecting children, family violence, relationship property, and adoption matters to name a few.
First Court Date
Once an application is made, the family court will organise a copy of the documents for the other person and a timeframe for their response. The matter is then given a first court date, usually a 15 minute attendance for the court to hear from those involved, assess the current situation, deal with any procedural issues arising and make some directions for moving the matter along.
Lawyer for Child
In proceedings which involve children – most commonly parenting, guardianship and Oranga Tamariki matters, a ‘lawyer for child’ is usually appointed. These are lawyers appointed to act for the children, find out their views and other relevant information and file a report with the court. They often act as mediator to assist with making appropriate arrangements that are in the children’s welfare and best interests.
Avoiding a Court Hearing
The Family Court places a strong emphasis on resolving matters. Generally, where agreement can be reached those arrangements are the best outcome for the children rather than court imposed orders. Often to assist with reaching resolution, Judges take on the role of mediators in further attempts to resolve matters before the court.
Where a matter cannot resolve it proceeds to hearing. If you are involved in a family court hearing, you will be required to give evidence before the court and answer questions by cross examination from the other lawyer(s) involved.