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  • Litigants without lawyers biggest problem facing the Family Court

    Current proposals with the select committee considering the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill include a compulsory $900 family dispute service, axing counselling sessions and restricting access to legal representation for parents and children. Judge Laurence Ryan is the new principal Family court Judge and he is concerned about changes to legal aid - meaning dozens more litigants without lawyers .

    Ryan was appointed to the bench in 1996 - he has a strong interest in case management and has already formed a working group to talk to the relevant parties about whatever new rules may be imposed.
    "It will be a new way of doing things and that's an area I'm very comfortable with," he says, adding that his own ideas are largely irrelevant to the process.
    "It's not the judge's position to change anything. Our role, really, is to make sure that whatever the Government decides, works."


    The biggest challenge facing the Family Court right now, he says, is the increasing number of unrepresented litigants - a situation forced by changes to Legal Aid made last year. Ryan says the changes aren't working. In his opinion, having the public represent themselves causes a raft of problems for the system - it takes up more of court staff's time explaining processes to those without lawyers, and more time in court when people are forced to represent themselves in unfamiliar territory.

    "They just don't know how to identify the issues the judge wants to know about and then how to articulate them," Ryan says.
    "So you end up with an unrepresented litigant that has no idea of the law and it's a hugely stressful thing for them to go through. Then to expect them to think logically and advance their case unemotionally, it's a huge ask."

    Ryan doesn't have the power to change Legal Aid. However, there are other problems he feels he may be able to fix, and has already set about making some changes. One of those is to move to a system where every family is assigned just one judge, to reduce stress at an already extremely difficult time for people. He also wants to introduce electronic filing, so that the experience of filing papers with the court is less daunting and time consuming.

    Mainly, however, he wants to make the Family Court better understood by the public, who he says have overly expectations of what judges can do and a lack of insight into the actual function of the law.
    "I don't think we've dealt with that well enough. Unless you've been through the process you wouldn't know about it, would you?"

    Ryan, who used to also be part of Coastguard, carrying out search and rescue operations to "help out", says he feels it's a shame the courts aren't better accepted as part of the community when in fact they play an integral part in many people's lives.
    "The difference between family court and, say, a civil dispute, is that in a civil dispute you go along and you get a ruling from a judge and you never have to see the defendant again," he says.
    "In family court the changes are that people will have to deal with each other for years, over their children, birthday parties, 21sts. So you have to care about ongoing relationships."

    He tells a story about a teenage boy who was alienated from his father by his mother, who he ordered to live with the father. "It was with my heart in my mouth that I told him this. He had quite a violent reaction to it. But after a month I got a report back and the boy was doing well and it made me feel very good about having made a very difficult decision."
    "Warm" moments like those, Ryan says, are central to what the court is about."You're dealing with real people, not corporates or finances, you're dealing with people's emotions and you're helping people sort out their problems and to me that seems to be real law."

    He mentions that the court is one of the most successful models in the world, with techniques like the Family Group Conference used widely overseas. Hopefully, he says, any changes the Government chooses to impose will not make a difference to that system."The judges want to make this still the best family court that it could be."
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Corrigenda's Avatar
      Corrigenda -
      Playing litle tin god by ordering a teenage boy to live with his father. I thought in their teens, children had a choice but seems like judges once again consider themselves the end all and be all. If all parties had to represent themselves then it would be a more even playing field. We couldn't afford a lwayer, got turned down by LA and came up against a litigant who was represented and he was a complete a...hole.
    1. flimflam's Avatar
      flimflam -
      It took 13 hearings to achieve shared care, I have no police record and there were never any care or protectection issues. Mummy simply didn't want shared care. She challenged every miniute of time that I have ever applied for. So why the 13 hearings?

      Because mummy does not like daddy. When the children are young ( before age 7) in such circumstances the court is concerned that mummy may take her issues out on the children who are at that time and up to this age too young to tell any one.

      There it is, the real reason.

      Do we read that in a brochure or on their web site. No. Why? Because that would not be justice, remember the court Is supposed to hear the evidence then makes its directions. It can't make directions first (it does though) so, knowing what the outcome will be they let fathers tip up, hopeful, alas they are to be told some shit about, attachment or bonding or conflict. These are the typical reasons judges give for what are predetermined outcomes.

      Some of us would simply say "identify the issue and have the mother sort it out or loose access, cash, get compelled to go to counseling or whatever.

      This court wont do that though, its eaisier to crunch dad.

      This court is aware that they have a serious participation problem with fathers, that they drop off, leave and often just move on. The court does not want to be seen to be gender biased or to provide precooked outcomes so we go through this nonsense of evidence, hearing judgement. Then we have dismay, disbelief, distrust then disaster for the children as dad moves on.

      The new Zealand family court is a sham, it's a bloody disgrace. Fathers leave in their droves. The court needs to be honest, up front and be just. It can't though because it's a court and remember it must give the impression that directions and outcomes can only be achieved after the evidence has been heard - not before.

      This crap has gone on for decades, people talk about their hearing, the outcomes, it's illegal - we are not supposed to talk about family court matters. Therefor they must think that we don't talk about our own hearing outcomes. The court's well earned reputation precedes it, new zealanders young, old, mothers, fathers and grandmothers know that " fathers get a rough time" that it's all about the mother.

      Soothing words about reform (on more that one occasion) from Judge Boshier didn't change that. Feel good comments from this new guy won't change that either. Carefully crafted media and spin is seen for what it is too, so the court does have an option. Get it's shit together before the last decent dad turns out the light.

      Don't spend your money on a lawyer, why would you? Precooked outcomes, then find a reason to support the outcome, that is how this court works. It leaves thinking people dismayed, feeling ripped off, pissed off and that they have been lied to by judges, lawyers for the child and psychologists - all agents and appointments of the New Zealand Family Court.

      Directions are put in place, often not followed by the mother without recourse. The father sees it as a sham, won't go back and leaves. congratulations another fatherless youth comming right up. They have been at it for over 20 years and look at the results. Good one - idealist morons?
    1. flimflam's Avatar
      flimflam -
      So what if you end up with a gender biased judge like judge Ulrich managing your file, fathers just leave. You might as well just go. You would think these fuckwits could join the dots as follows:

      Over 90 percent of child abuse is carried out by persons other than the natural father.

      Our youth are in many instances out of control - see kapiti.

      A high percentage of solo mothers in kapiti.

      Articles in Kapiti newspapers recently bemoaning a lack of male role models, seeking males to step up to help be role models to these children.

      A family court that makes it absurdly difficult for fathers to have meaningful access with their children.

      You would think that someone might apply some common sense. But no judge Lawrence Ryan thinks more legal aid is the answer. Why would he think that? These clowns have had the legal aid cheque book at the ready for years. The Family Court reputation has evolved as a gender biased environment over that time with thousands of fathers, gone, moved on having had little or no input into their children. We now have well meaning people wanting to have male mentors help out.

      In many instances these mothers would be better off with stern meaningful words. But no - poor mummy will be supported in the Wellington region by, Judge Walsh, Judge Ulrich, Judge Johnson, Judge Moss and most likely others. If this court wants to improve its reputation it might start by putting these family court judges on parking ticket duty.

      Do you throw more good money after bad! You might want to have that happen if you are the recipient.

      Remember these people were lawyers before they became judges, of course they think more cash is the answer.

      Do not believe the dross about the kid who got placed with his father - feel good family court propaganda. It's always been a mummy's court and still is.
    1. Corrigenda's Avatar
      Corrigenda -
      We appeared before Judge Walsh and he spent his whole time staring at the plaintiff's boobs. He never heard a word of our evidence or looked at our documentation which backed up our evidence. Then when it came time to issue his judgment, he made up all the facts to make her look snow white and us as the villains. He put outright LIES in his judgment and her lawyer, Peter Wetherall of Greymouth also LIED in his applications. There is no justice in the Family Court. If you are not the mother, you are rubbish!!!
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