The Family Lawyer | All things family law in New Zealand
Family Law Results is a law firm dedicated to providing specialist advice and services on family law issues.We are based in two Auckland locations but assist clients from throughout New Zealand and the rest of the world.
Over 20 years ago I was a summer intern at a “Big 6” firm. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter sexual harassment in my time there. This is not a “Me Too” moment. However, I could well see the potential for it. What I most remember of this time in my career is the terrifying cocktail of the exhilaration of embarking on my career mixed with the daily apprehension and lack of confidence I felt as I moved within that world. Even with years of experience under our belts, many of my female contemporaries continue to carry “imposter” feelings, crises of confidence or shy from challenges they are more than capable of meeting for fear of not “being up to the task”. This is nothing new or earth shattering. Women have known, and quietly whispered, of this affliction within our tribe forever. Sheryl Sandberg got a bestseller out of it in her book, “Lean In”, helping to amplify the conversation. To think that twenty plus years later young women, likely carrying with them those same feelings I had, have been welcomed to our profession with sexual harassment is shameful.
I well remember the emotion of a fellow junior colleague confiding in me about the sexual harassment she received from her boss before she’d even got through lunch on her first day in the job. Over the years other stories emerged – the secretary who felt she had no choice but to leave her job because of the overt sexual harassment by the owner of the practice; the colleague who felt uncomfortable because of the calls and invitations she received from a senior male colleague; the colleague who was left confused and grieving after being propositioned by a married male partner who she previously considered a professional mentor; the two female junior lawyers who came into the interview room I was in at Court to quietly discuss the inappropriate comments made to them outside by a senior male colleague.
In other ways, my female peers are made to feel “less than” and undervalued while trying to simply go about their daily work: the male partner who jokes the firms’ maternity leave policy is “you get pregnant, you leave”; the client who, in explicit terms, talks to his junior female lawyer about aspects of his sex life and his anatomy (completely irrelevant to his case) yet doesn’t do the same when he is moved to a male lawyer; the junior lawyer who has a more senior male colleague make derogatory remarks about an aspect of her physical appearance during a settlement meeting. The list goes on. I well remember the male respondent who, in one of my first, nerve wracking hearings, insisted on answering my cross examination in a condescending, patronising tone while calling me “girly” and “sweetheart”. This occurred in front of a senior male lawyer and a male Judge who didn’t bat an eyelid. I have no doubt that had he made a racist comment in that Courtroom, he would have been reprimanded swiftly but his sexism went uncommented on. I was left feeling belittled and to assume it simply either wasn’t seen by these two men in power or was just viewed as the rigours of litigation. Harden up sweetie.
I am writing of only a small few of our male colleagues, not all of them. Most of my male employers and colleagues have been wonderful. I am particularly fortunate to enjoy collegial relationships with male colleagues who will be equally as appalled as I am at these stories. Most of the men in my profession conduct themselves around all their colleagues, male and female, in an entirely respectful, professional manner. Sadly, anecdotal evidence suggests the perpetrators of what can be described as (at best) clumsy and inappropriate and (at its worst) predatory or harassing behaviour towards their female colleagues are older, senior members of our profession.
Do the women of my anecdotes, all of whom are educated, strong and independent, formally complain? No. And so it goes on. A myriad of reasons stops us from complaining. The hierarchical nature of the profession and a sense of “knowing our place” against more senior colleagues. The lack of confidence we have as juniors, particularly when jobs are so rare and sought after. Not wanting to be seen as “a problem” or “a prude” or “unable to take a joke”. Sometimes, just wanting to have it be over with. Then there is the small firm isolation experienced when one is left feeling powerless as the “HR department” or manager to go to is also the owner of the firm and the perpetrator of the behaviour.
Good on these five young women for standing strong on this and complaining. Good on the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University, Grant Guilford, who on National Radio today labelled perpetrators of sexual harassment as “arseholes” and called for greater understanding within workplaces and our society of the long term harm caused by sexual harassment. Kudos to his interviewer, Kathryn Ryan, who upon hearing about initiatives being taken to “prepare” young women for entering the workplace and dealing with such situations, stated the obvious– shouldn’t young women be able to go into the workforce and simply not have to encounter such behaviour?
To my profession – as lawyers, most of us have very keen social justice radars. We are quick to jump on causes. But our own house must be tidy. We must be alert to those who subvert the respect and honour of our roles. The men in our profession need to all be the biggest advocates for their female colleagues. The women in our profession need to take a leaf from the book of those five students who have complained. We need to stand strong and not allow ourselves and each other to sit silent or merely whisper about this. We shouldn’t accept this behaviour as an inevitable rite of passage in our careers. The irony is that many of us are exceptional advocates for our clients yet not for ourselves and each other.
To those few guilty male colleagues, let me break it down for you simply–
Interviews I heard today suggested that consumption of alcohol at workplace functions is a contributing factor to sexual harassment. Alcohol is no excuse. If having a few drinks causes you to make bad decisions, behave inappropriately and to abuse your position of trust and seniority, you have a much bigger problem. Do what you need to deal with it.
The target of your behaviour is not amused or enamoured by it. That is no reflection on their sense of humour or their sexuality. The target of your behaviour is not a “prude”, “frigid” or “unable to take a joke”. Your behaviour isn’t a joke. Unwanted sexual attention or comments about one’s physical appearance are not a turn on.
As a starting point – here’s a simple litmus test: if you wouldn’t say something to your male colleagues, don’t say it to your female ones. Never. Just zip it. If you wouldn’t act in a certain manner towards your male colleagues, don’t conduct yourself that way with your female ones. At the very least it is not appropriate. At its worse, it is criminal. At any level on the spectrum, it can destroy a women’s sense of security and self and can ruin careers.
Finally, let’s be very clear – the women of my profession talk to one another. We may not be parading the red carpet dressed in black with Time’s Up badges adorned but we confide in one another about your behaviour. Yes, that’s right, we talk about you. Your reputations are muddied. We know who you are. We don’t forget. Even after 20+ years.
Shame on you. But more shame on you if, now being aware the time for change is here, you choose not to.
I first met Jennifer Hetherington when we both served on a committee for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. When I say met, we didn’t actually meet in person for some years but rather exchanged emails and were voices across a conference call line during committee meetings. When I finally met Jennifer in person, it was like a whirlwind came through my office. What a dynamo! She practices out of Queensland where she is an award winning family law specialist, a mediator and Collaborative Professional.
SAME SEX MARRIAGE LAW NOW ENABLES DIVORCE FOR COUPLES WHO MARRIED IN NZ (Jennifer Hetherington, Hetherington Family Law)
Australia’s historic same sex marriage laws has finally resolved an unexpected quandary faced by same sex couples who were legally married in New Zealand but move to Australia.
Until Australia made same sex marriage legal, same sex marriages in New Zealand were not legally recognised in Australia (see last month’s blog).
A consequence of that meant couples who married in New Zealand and made the jump across the ditch and now wanted a divorce in Australia were in a legal limbo – their marriage was not recognised in Australia and they could not get a divorce as they were no longer domiciled in New Zealand.
Everything changed on December 9 when same sex marriage became legal in Australia.
The law means same sex marriages in New Zealand, are now legally married in Australia which also clears the way for couples who seek a divorce.
Until December 9 you couldn’t divorce in Australia until our same sex marriage legislation was passed. The irony is that while you could not divorce you could do a property settlement as a de facto couple (with potential greater rights than in New Zealand!)
Australia’s marriage equality law change now brings our country into line with international thinking.
While Australians are celebrating the legalising of same sex marriage we have to acknowledge the fact that, as with many relationships, it doesn’t always work out.
It now means some of those people who flew to New Zealand to be married under their same sex marriage laws are now able to apply for same sex divorces in Australia.
You can learn more about Jennifer Hetherington or contact her at her website here. Jennifer is an award winning specialist family lawyer and mediator. Her firm, Hetherington Family Law, is based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. However, she grew up in the City of Sails (Auckland!) before jumping across the ditch in her teenage years and will always remain a loyal All Blacks fan.
I first heard about Divorce Coaches while in the US several years ago but it wasn’t until 18 months ago that I met a NZ based divorce coach, Kimberlee Sweeney. Kimberlee is a pocket rocket full of great ideas, knowledge and tools to help clients navigate the separation path. Kimberlee is the person to see if you
are contemplating separation but need support and clarity as you work through your decision;
want assistance to communicate with your ex in a calm and open way;
feel the need to put in place and implement a practical, step by step plan;
want your legal fees to go further and to work optimally with your lawyer or mediator;
want to work through the cloud of emotion you’re experiencing in order to make supported, focused and practical decisions
I love working with like minded professionals who aim to empower their clients to make child focused and life enhancing decisions for themselves and their families. Therefore, it is a huge pleasure to introduce you to Kimberlee Sweeney and have her as my guest blogger. Take it away Kimberlee…
Lawyers and Divorce Coaches: A mutually satisfying partnership (Kimberlee Sweeney, CDC Divorce Coach)
In my profession as a CDC Certified Divorce Coach, I have built a portfolio of experts to refer clients going through separation or divorce. I have spent a substantial amount of time meeting with Barristers, family lawyers, mediators, financial experts, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, counsellors and psychologists, and the like. I prefer to refer my clients to experts I have personally met and try and match my clients to those experts whom I think they will relate well to.
Working in partnership with a team of legal experts has ultimately prepared my clients for the process of the legalities of separation and divorce. In turn, my stable of legal experts also refer their clients to me, when there has been a need for additional support outside of their law office.
Divorce coaching is expanding worldwide but is a relatively new type of coaching here in New Zealand. There is a growing need for more support in this speciality area, especially with all the changes going on within our, “bursting at the seams”, courts system.
Lawyers need credible Divorce Coaches who can broker a clear pathway for them, with clients going through the crisis of a separation or divorce. A Divorce Coach can facilitate constructive communication and assist clients to settle their disputes out of court in a more collaborative fashion via their lawyers. A coach supports them in and out of meetings and mediations and prepares them both emotionally and organisationally for such meetings.
A divorce coach can assist clients to work through the emotional effects of dealing with separation and divorce, help them to think more clearly about how to move forward in the process, and focus less on reliving the past. Ultimately getting them organised and putting plans in place, systematically during each phase of separation and divorce. This is beneficial to a family lawyer, who can then work out the practical and legal aspects of separation and divorce, and allow the Divorce Coach to handle the background preparation and emotional toll of divorce.
When children are involved a Divorce Coach can assist parents with developing a ‘Parenting Plan’ that opens up the potential to, co-parent their children amicably and co-operatively, providing the children with structure and security so they can transition into a new way of living between two homes feeling supported.
Some signs that a client could be well served by a Divorce Coach include:
They are locked into one option and refuse to consider other possible solutions
They refuse to examine any other perspective but their own.
They are either overly optimistic or overly pessimistic about how things will turn out for them after the settlement
They lose sight of what is best for the children
They are so overwhelmed they are stuck in indecision
They have no idea how to rebuild a life on their own.
They simply don’t know where to start and need guidance on how to make wise decisions for their future.
Coaching helps the client explore other options or shift their perspective to consider other possible solutions. It’s a flexible, goal oriented process designed to support, motivate and guide people and to help them make the best possible decisions for their future.
If you would like to learn more about me and the services I offer as a Divorce Coach feel free to scroll through my website or contact me to set up a time for a meeting.
I look after clients all over New Zealand and even have had some clients in Australia. Coaching sessions can be via skype or telephone or in my offices in St Johns, Auckland.
Kimberlee’s coaching practice, Degrees of Separation, operates out of Auckland, New Zealand but she consults via Skype and phone also. You can learn more about Kimberlee and the different services she offers, including her introductory free Discovery session, by calling her on 021 279 9407 or head over to her website www.degreesofseparation.co.nz.
Yesterday, hours after we learned Australia had voted in favour of same sex marriage, I was interviewed on Radio Live Drive about a peculiar anomaly in the law which means same sex couples who have already married in New Zealand but call Australia home have no way of obtaining a divorce.
It’s an unusual day in the office when, as a divorce lawyer, I must tell a client he or she cannot divorce. That is exactly the scenario I have found myself in on several occasions since New Zealand passed its same sex marriage legislation. New Zealand has developed a lucrative nuptials market with overseas same sex couples, many from Australia, coming to our shores to marry. Last year, 471 same sex marriages in New Zealand were between overseas residents and over 330 of those were Australians crossing the ditch to get hitched. Furthermore, some New Zealanders who enter same sex marriages here inevitably end up doing as many New Zealanders do and move to Australia to establish new lives there. For many starry-eyed newlyweds, the thought of wedded bliss turning sour is not something that is dwelled on. However, for those in same sex relationships, divorce might not be an option in the future should they not reside in New Zealand and “till death do us part” will really mean just that.
So, how is it that a same sex couple living in Australia can marry in New Zealand but not divorce? The issue arises for two reasons – the circumstances in which you can apply for a divorce in New Zealand and the lack of legal recognition of same sex marriages across the Tasman.
To apply for a dissolution of marriage (or divorce) in New Zealand, one of the married parties needs to be domiciled here. If both parties are domiciled overseas, then a dissolution cannot be sought in New Zealand even if the marriage occurred here. Domicile shouldn’t be confused with where you live at any given moment. It has a specific legal meaning but generally speaking, requires a level of intention and long term commitment to the country of domicile.
If a same sex couple cannot seek a divorce in New Zealand because they are domiciled in Australia, surely the solution is that they apply in Australia for a divorce. This is exactly what a heterosexual married couple faced with the same circumstances could do. However, not only does Australia not allow same sex marriages to occur there, it specifically outlaws the legal recognition of same sex marriages that have occurred overseas. Australia’s Marriage Act 1961 specifically states that unions solemnised in a foreign country between members of the same sex must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia. Therefore, a divorce cannot occur in Australia because the very marriage being dissolved is not legally recognised in the first place. Essentially, in the eyes of Australian law, there is no marriage to dissolve.
If you are thinking this is all rather unfair, the United Nations Human Rights Committee agrees with you. On 3 August 2017, it found that Australia’s denial of divorce to a citizen who had entered a same sex marriage in Canada was discriminatory and violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “all persons should be equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination to the equal protection of the law”. The Committee found that Australia is treating overseas same sex marriages less favourably than other types of marriage. Advocates of same sex marriage in Australia have argued the decision creates an obligation on Australia to grant marriage equality as it confirms Australia has an obligation to treat same sex couples equally and give them equal protection of the law.
Some may ask why having the ability to divorce matters if the marriage is not recognised at all in law. Putting aside the significant human rights issue as confirmed by the UN Human Rights Committee, the right to divorce has practical implications. Divorcing frees you to marry another, should you choose to do so. We all live, love and occasionally make a mess of things. For heterosexual couples, they can choose to try again and remarry. By denying same sex couples the right to divorce, they essentially are denied the right to remarry after one marriage ends. Should someone simply ignore his or her earlier same sex marriage and marry again, they would be committing bigamy under New Zealand law.
If Australians do for marriage equality reform as their Prime Minister urged yesterday and simply “get on with it”, this situation will be promptly rectified. In that case, some of those couples who first rushed to New Zealand to be among the first to marry here under our same sex marriage laws may find themselves being some of the first rushing to the apply for same sex divorces in Australia. But, what will happen in the seemingly unlikely event Australia doesn’t change its law? Do we in New Zealand, having marketed ourselves as a destination for same sex couples wanting to marry, have an obligation to warn of the potential legal quagmire these couples could be sinking into? One option that New Zealand may have to consider is an amendment to its law to allow couples in this situation to apply for divorces here of their New Zealand marriages and, in doing so, grant complete marriage equality
In the last few weeks, I have focused my blogs on how you can get free legal advice and assistance. I have done this because every week, Family Law Results receives more and more calls from people who are financially stretched and can’t afford a lawyer.
I am wrapping this theme up this week by writing about a free service that can help equip you for co-parenting your children after a separation – the Parenting through Separation programme (PTS). Parenting through Separation doesn’t provide legal advice or representation. However, as a lawyer I have seen it assist my clients to resolve their parenting dispute. The Course can help you:
understand your children’s needs;
understand how separation effects children;
work out how to make the best arrangements for your children;
provide you with practical tips about what you can do to help your children after a separation;
provide you with tools for communicating with the other parent.
Unless you have an urgent issue around the safety of you or your children, PTS should be the first call you make when you are trying to sort out the care of your children after a separation. The Family Court will not accept from you a non-urgent application about parenting arrangements unless you can show it your certificate to show you have completed Parenting Through Separation.
PTS is free. The course takes four hours, either in 1 session or split across 2 sessions. Don’t worry – you won’t be sitting in the course with your ex-partner. If your ex-partner also chooses to do the course, you will each be scheduled to attend separate courses.
There are a number of organisations throughout New Zealand that provide the PTS course, including Plunket and Barnardos. You can find other providers here.
Parenting through Separation has been running for several years now. I have had hundreds of clients attend the courses. I always ask them what they thought of the course. I have not had a single negative piece of feedback from my clients about it. The course isn’t just for people who have just separated. I have had clients who are well past their initial separation but who felt they were stuck in some negative co-parenting habits attend the course. As a mediator, I have also had mediation parties attend the course before coming to mediation. They also reported back positively about it.
Got a question about a parenting issue? Give Family Law Results a call on (09) 297 2010.
Getting Free If cash is tight and you want to try to resolve an issue about parenting or guardianship while staying out of Court, then Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) may be right for you. FDR is a mediation service. An impartial, trained mediator will guide you and the other party towards reaching agreement about issues to do with your children. If you are eligible, you can receive this service free.
Unless you have an urgent issue, attempting FDR will be necessary because you have to show you have completed FDR and Parenting through Separation before you can make an application to the Family Court for a parenting or guardianship order.
Whether you are eligible to receive free Family Dispute Resolution will depend on:
Your income. You can check here whether you are eligible. You will need to have an idea of what your income has been in the last three months; and
The number of dependents you have – this includes children who do not live with you but for whom you pay financial support such as child support;
If you think you are eligible for free FDR then you will need to arrange your FDR through an approved supplier. In Auckland, this will be FairWay or Family Works Northern. Elsewhere in the country, you can find a supplier here.
The supplier will check your eligibility for free FDR. It will ask for your driver’s licence and your last three months bank statements. You will also need to fill out a simple form. The good news is that if you have already been approved funding for the Family Legal Advice Service (FLAS) in the last 12 months, you are automatically also covered for FDR and you do not need to reapply for funding. Likewise, any approval you are given for FDR funding will mean you can access FLAS within 12 months.
The supplier will also assess that your situation is suitable for FDR by asking you some questions. If it isn’t suitable, you will be given a certificate stating you are exempt from having to attend FDR. It will be important to obtain legal advice as to what steps you should next take. You might be able to do this under the Family Legal Advice Service.
Once your eligibility for funding has been approved and your situation has been assessed as suitable for FDR, the supplier will connect you with a mediator. The mediator will want to meet with each of you individually at first. At that meeting, the mediator will learn more about your situation, further assess your situation for suitability for mediation and discuss the process more with you. If there is agreement to do so, the mediator will then meet with both of you together to try to help you resolve your parenting issue.
Your time with the mediator will be limited therefore using that time to focus on the children and the future, rather than going over past grievances in your relationship with the other person, will be important. In order to get the most out of FDR, you may be recommended to attend preparatory counselling or conflict coaching. Again, if you have been approved funding for FDR, this will be free. Preparatory counselling or coaching is a great opportunity to speak with someone about what is concerning you and to receive coaching as to constructive communication about those concerns and issues.
Most mediators also urge parties to receive legal advice about their situation either before attending mediation or about any agreement reached at FDR. Having legal advice enables you to make informed decisions at mediation. If you are eligible for funded FDR, you should also be eligible to receive free legal advice under the Family Legal Advice Service. If you reach agreement at FDR or mediation, your mediator will write up your agreement. You can ask to have an opportunity to discuss the agreement with your lawyer before you sign it. You may also want to canvass with your lawyer whether you should seek Court orders that reflect aspects of your agreement.
The good news is that FDR is not just available to those who are eligible for funding. Even if you are not eligible for fully funded FDR, you will likely be eligible for partially funded FDR. In Auckland, the Family Dispute Resolution Centre offers partially funded FDR at a cost of $897.00 (at the time I wrote this).
FDR is for a limited amount of FDR services and time with your mediator. Some of our clients with parenting issues have indicated they want a higher level of service provided to them and more time made available to them by the mediator than funded or partially funded FDR provides. For those clients, we have been engaged privately to mediate their dispute successfully. Likewise, clients who recognise the benefits of mediation for their property issues often opt to engage us or another mediator privately to mediate.
FDR must be provided by approved Family Dispute Resolution Providers who are trained in family mediation. At Family Law Results, we are approved to provide FDR and mediation services so give us a call on (09) 297 2010. We are happy to provide FDR or mediation services or legal advice and coaching as you prepare for and work through mediation.
This week, I am continuing the theme of the last two blog posts about free legal advice and free legal services. Over five years ago (yes, I cannot believe it myself – 5 years ago!), I blogged about 10 free things you can do to help resolve your family law issue so it seemed pretty apt to repost that blog. I’ve tweaked it a little to take into account changes since 2012. Read away…
While listening to the radio while driving this afternoon, I learned that Lonely Planet has released a list of the top ten travel things you can do for free which got me to thinking about what ten free things one can do to help get through a family law issue.
While my list may not be as exciting as discovering the Staten Island ferry is still free or that entry into the Musee de Louvre is free on Sundays, it will likely be a lot more useful than LP’s list to those of you going through a separation or family law dispute.
Head to www.justice.govt.nz – under the “Publications” section, there are a number of links to the Ministry’s brochures and fact sheets in PDF form. If it is a family law issue, there is likely to be a brochure on it here. If you don’t have access to the internet, your local Family Court or Citizen’s Advice Bureau should have copies of the brochures.
Take a look at the website of Collaborative Advocacy NZ at www.collaborativelaw.org.nz. This could open up to you the opportunity to resolve your family law issue without Court proceedings and in a far more conciliatory manner than you ever envisaged. The few lawyers trained in Collaborative Law in NZ are passionate about it so you should have no trouble finding one who will take some time to have an initial chat with you about it to see if it will suit your situation. You can find some lawyers who are willing to provide a free 20 minute consultation about Collaborative Practice here.
Check out your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Most run a free legal advice clinic. You will usually have to make an appointment. These are usually only 15 minute time slots with a lawyer but such a session may help point you in the right direction towards resolving your issue.
Talk to a trusted friend or family member who has already been through a separation or divorce. Be clear about what you hope to get out of the discussion. You may not be wanting someone to simply use you as a sounding board as they regurgitate the whole story of their separation so choose your person carefully and be armed with some key questions so you can get some useful tips – who would they recommend as a lawyer? As a counsellor? What worked for them? What didn’t?
Want to know how much child support that you may have to pay or that you may be able to receive? www.ird.govt.nz has a great free child support calculator.
If you are a parent of dependent children, get along to the free “Parenting through Separation” programme run through the Ministry of Justice. For most parenting and guardianship disputes, the Court requires you to have completed this programme before you file Court proceedings. My clients who have done this programme have all given positive feedback on the helpfulness of this course. Its only cost is your time. You can find a course through Plunket or here.
Inevitably a separation means an overhaul of your finances. www.sorted.org.nz will help you do just that – get sorted. Alternatively, most areas have a free budget advisory service. Most of the banks’ websites also have very easy to use calculators which are a great starting point for helping you calculate things like how much you can borrow, what the repayments will be etc.
If you have an issue about the care arrangements for your children, see if you qualify for the free Family Legal Advice Service and Family Dispute Resolution (Mediation). If you already have Family Court proceedings about your children, you may be able to get a referal to counselling to help you and the other parent or guardian work together to make arrangements for the children’s care work.
Use your local library. There is a large number of books available for adults, young people or children about separation and divorce.
Listen. Sounds easy, doesn’t it, but when one is in the midst of a discussion about an emotionally charged issue it is surprisingly difficult to stop talking, stop hearing what you think the other person has said or is going to say, stop jumping to “solve” the problem being discussed and to actually just listen openly but I never said these were “free” AND “easy” tips! Listening is completely free and I am convinced it is the single most effective thing people facing a family law issue can do to resolve that issue.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, right? In my last post, I showed that needn’t be true of legal advice. Under the Family Legal Advice Service, you can receive initial legal advice and assistance about your parenting issue, free of charge, from Family Law Results. However, with Legal Aid, things take a slightly different turn. Rather than a free lunch, Legal Aid is probably a case of “eat your lunch now and pay later”.
Whether you are eligible to receive Legal Aid will depend on:
The number of dependents you have – this includes children who do not live with you but for whom you pay financial support such as child support;
Your assets; and
The type of family law issue you have and the reasons you have for pursuing the issue. Legal Aid is available for most family law issues, including paternity, relationship property, domestic violence and urgent parenting proceedings.
If you want to apply for family Legal Aid, your first step should be to engage a lawyer. Not all lawyers are approved to offer Legal Aid services – you will need one who is an approved Legal Aid Provider in family law. Your lawyer will be able to assess whether you will be eligible to receive Legal Aid and will be able to help you complete the Legal Aid application form.
To apply for Legal Aid, you will need to complete an application form (that your lawyer can give you) and provide your lawyer with:
your last three months’ bank statements;
proof of your pay or WINZ benefit;
a rates notice for any home you may own;
proof of your debts (if Legal Aid requests this); and
a financial declaration form from any partner or spouse you may have.
Unless your matter relates to domestic violence proceedings, you will also need to pay a $50 user charge to your lawyer.
While you have a grant of Legal Aid, your lawyer will send his or her invoice for work undertaken for you to Legal Aid for payment. However, unless you are seeking assistance for a domestic violence application, Legal Aid will usually require that you repay some or all of the legal costs it pays for you. See what I meant about Legal Aid not being a free lunch? Legal Aid may require you to make automatic payments each week to it. If you sell a home you own or you receive any settlement payment in your legal dispute, you will be required to repay your debt to Legal Aid from the funds you receive. Legal Aid can also charge you interest on your debt.
If you are granted Legal Aid it will be for a very limited amount of funding for each step of your legal matter. It is important to be mindful of this when using the services of your lawyer.
Legal Aid services must be provided by approved lawyers. At Family Law Results, we are approved to provide Legal Aid for family law matters so give us a call on (09) 297 2010.
Tiana called us recently with concerns about her son, Jarrod, who has lived with his father for a number of years. She was frustrated about a lack of information and consultation about Jarrod’s schooling. Tiana also wanted to secure more time caring for Jarrod. We were able to offer the Family Legal Advice Service (or FLAS) to Tiana. This enabled us to meet with her to provide initial free legal advice to her. During the initial advice session, we were able to help her develop a plan for resolving the issues about Jarrod’s care arrangements.
If you have an issue about the parenting or guardianship arrangements for your child then, like Tiana, you may qualify to receive some free legal advice under the Family Legal Advice Service.
The service is delivered in two parts. At the first session, you will receive legal advice about your responsibilities and options for resolving the issue, the factors a Court would consider if it were deciding the issue and the types of orders it may make. We are able to assist you to develop a plan for resolving the dispute and, if need be, refer you to the appropriate professionals to assist you with mediation (Family Dispute Resolution) and/or Parenting Through Separation.
If you try Family Dispute Resolution and are not able to resolve the issue there, you may wish to make an application to the Family Court. This is where the second part of the Family Legal Advice Service comes into play. We will assist you to fill out the application forms for your Court proceedings. You will usually need to file the proceedings after having received help to work out what forms you need to file and what information you need to include in them.
So, how do you know if the Family Legal Advice Service will be suitable for your situation? When you call us, we will assess your situation but generally, the Family Legal Advice Service will be appropriate if:
You meet the financial eligibility criteria. This is based on your income and the number of dependents you have. You can check here to see if you qualify. Your spouse or partner’s income is not taken into account but he or she must have no income to be considered a “dependent”. To be a dependent, your children do not need to live with you but you do need to be supporting their maintenance. For example, Jarrod was considered a dependent of Tiana’s because, even though he doesn’t primarily live with her, she does pay child support for him.;
The issue you need assistance with is one regarding the care arrangements or guardianship of children; and
There are no urgent issues requiring urgent Court intervention, for example: domestic violence or drug use. In these circumstances, legal advice will likely be available to you under Legal Aid if you are on a low income
FLAS must be provided by approved lawyers. At Family Law Results, we are approved to provide the service so give us a call on (09) 297 2010 if you wish to discuss the Family Legal Advice Service.
If the Police were to tell you that your partner has a history of domestic violence against previous partners, would that information lead you to end your relationship?
The aim of New Zealand’s Family Violence Disclosure Scheme is to allow the Police to disclose information about a partner’s previous violence to a current partner so that person may make informed decisions about whether and how they continue their relationship. Our own scheme is based on a scheme in the UK known as “Clare’s Law” after 36 year old Clare Wood who was strangled and set alight in her home in 2009 by her ex-boyfriend. Clare was not aware that he had a history of violence against women, including kidnapping an ex-partner at knifepoint.
The scheme is relatively straightforward. Let’s use an example. Simone is in a relationship with Evan and has recently become concerned about his angry outbursts and her safety during those outbursts. Simone may make a request to the Police to have Evan’s family violence history made known to her. The request can be simply made by Simone attending a Police Station, calling a non-emergency Police phone number or speaking with a Police Officer on the street.
Let’s now consider the situation if Simone’s brother, Tane, and her friend, Wendy, have concerns for Simone’s safety in her relationship with Evan. Tane or Wendy may also make a request to the Police for Evan’s family violence history. However, the Police may decide not to release this information to Tane or Wendy. Instead, the Police may choose to approach Simone directly with the information or another person who can assist with her safety.
In some cases, the Police may decide to proactively inform Simone of Evan’s family violence history without any request having been made.
Of course, there are limitations to the scheme. So much family violence lies below the radar and is not reported to Police. This means Evan may have a history of unreported violence which Simone would not become aware of under the Scheme.
Furthermore, the psychological aspects of family violence mean a woman may be unable to seek out the information. Even if she does acquire the information, she may face considerable psychological and practical issues around bringing the relationship to an end.
At FLR we are concerned about how widespread knowledge of the Scheme is. The Police have information on its website as do a number of other Family Violence support agencies. The Scheme was also reported on at its inception. However, anecdotally, it seems to us the general public are not widely aware of it.
The Scheme has been in place for just over a year. In its first six months, 38 cases had been referred to the scheme for information and the Police opted to proactively disclose information where they were concerned for a person’s safety in 21 cases. Not huge numbers but that still represents 59 people who have received information that may be influential in their decision making about their relationship and the risks it may present to their own personal safety and that of any children they may have.
If you have concerns about domestic violence:
in an emergency call the Police on 111.
if you wish to receive advice about protection orders , call us on (09) 297 2010 or 0800 email us at email@example.com.