Faced with a "broken" Family Court system and outdated relationship property laws, Justice Minister Kris Faafoi needs to act urgently to prevent more devastating outcomes for thousands of Kiwi couples trying to get a fair share of their property after separation.
During the Herald's investigation into New Zealand's dysfunctional relationship property
disputes system, lawyers, accountants and those who have suffered lengthy legal battles described the process as "horrendous" "brutal" and "barbaric".
Why should that be? Why should the lives of everyday Kiwis and those of their children, be systematically destroyed by a process that simply doesn't work?
Apart from the hopelessly outdated Property (Relationships) Act 1976, at the core of the problem is the Family Court.
It's overloaded, inefficient and bogged down by complex rules.
The judges are acknowledged as dedicated and hard-working but they are hampered by a system many describe as "broken", and in need of a major overhaul.
Cases can drag on for years, and at enormous cost, meaning neither side can get on with their lives. Lack of penalties for non-compliance or using delaying tactics mean there is little or no incentive to play fair. A system that allows couples to battle their way through as many as four different courts to prove their right to a share of relationship property is cruel and just plain wrong.
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Back in 2019, the Law Commission described the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 as being "no longer fit for purpose". It recommended a new Relationship Property Act with a series of changes including access to trusts being used to protect joint property. It also wanted to "address behaviour that causes delay and increased costs".
But since then, nothing's changed. Instead of moving on the new law, the Government gave the commission another task, to review the law of succession (after the death of a spouse or partner), frustrating those in the industry who say the delay is unnecessary.
The minister says he's expecting the commission's report on the succession law to be completed by the end of the year. And then what? He has not indicated when the act will be updated or the court system overhauled, and there appears to be no sense of urgency.
A glimmer of hope appeared in this year's Budget with the Government's allocation of $15 million over five years to pay for Family Court Associates to help with administrative matters. An additional $5.7m was allocated over five years to improve scheduling and management in the District Court.
In the meantime, the Government's lack of action is causing ongoing anguish, emotional trauma and financial ruin for couples trying to move on with their lives.
Caught in the middle are children, many of whom spend their childhood witnessing their parents locked in bitter disputes that destroy families and leave one or both sides financially and emotionally destroyed.
And New Zealand is at risk of falling well behind other developed countries in terms of important social legislation that is currently on the back burner.