MANY Gisborne families will miss out on a subsidy for the new Dispute Resolution Service, meaning more will end up in court, says Labour Party spokesman for justice Charles Chauvel.
Having grown up here, Mr Chauvel said he had a good understanding of why many people in this region would miss out on subsidies for the new service.
Announced as part of the Government’s new Family Court reforms, the Family Dispute Resolution Service (FDR) will replace most Family Court counselling and mediation services, which were free to access.
Parents going through the courts to sort out issues like care of children will have to pay about $900 for the service and will only be subsidised if their incomes are under the qualification threshold for legal aid — $22,366 per year for a single applicant, $35,420 for an applicant with a spouse, partner or with one dependent child, or $50,934 for an applicant with a spouse or partner and one dependent child; or with two dependent children.
“Because the Gisborne region has a significant over-representation of people earning under $50,000, the area is hit particularly hard by legislation like this,” Mr Chauvel said.
“It is all very well to say that lower-income earners will be subsidised, but many of those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 will miss out, so a major poverty trap will open up.”
The new cost was announced just a month after new charges were imposed for people seeking parenting orders ($220), division of assets ($700) or relationship property hearings ($906).
Minister of Justice Judith Collins says the FDR service will “minimise the harmful impact conflict has on children” by reducing court applications by about 4000 every year.
But not everybody agrees a reduction in applications is a good thing.
After hearing of the introduction of the earlier charges, Gisborne Business and Professional Women president Mary Hope told The Gisborne Herald the charges would stop women from accessing support through the court system, a view echoed by community groups including Tairawhiti Community Law Centre, Gisborne Women’s Refuge and Gisborne Barnardos.
“Families in our area find it difficult to access the services they need now because of costs,” said Gisborne Barnardos manager Dianne Saunders.
“We work hard to try to help people keep themselves and their families safe from family violence, but obstacles like these court costs make people think twice about applying for an order that might be the difference between life and death for their children.”
Charles Chauvel believes the FDR costs will create even bigger barriers to obtaining justice for many families caught up in unhappy domestic situations.
“Combined with cuts to legal aid that have already been made — and those yet to be announced — it paints a bleak picture,” he said.
“Those in-between people won’t get any right to assistance, but they will be hit with this big new fee for a service that was previously free and which solved a great majority of disputes before any issue had to go near a judge.
“If National MPs knew what it was like to earn less than $50,000 a year, they might think again before placing essential services out of the reach of many of their constituents.”
Summarising changes to Family Court
KEY proposals for changes to the Family Court include:
• Increasing the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order from two to three years’ imprisonment.
• Improving domestic violence treatment programmes.
• Extending the definition of domestic violence to include “economic abuse”.
• Making participation in the parenting through separation course mandatory for most applicants.
• Introducing a family dispute resolution (FDR) mediation service.