An advisory group set up to provide independent advice on changes to the Family Court has criticised proposed reforms, saying there was a lack of consultation and the changes could put children and adults at risk.

Justice Minister Judith Collins rejected the comments as "irresponsible".

Former justice minister Simon Power established the Expert Reference Group to provide independent advice to the Government on changes to the Family Court.

In August, Ms Collins announced proposed changes to the court, which include increasing the penalty for breaching a protection order, recognising 'economic abuse' as a form of psychological abuse, and improving domestic violence programmes.


The proposed reforms also include the introduction of a new Family Disputes Resolution (FDR) service and cutting the existing six free counselling sessions for couples to one.

However, former members of the reference group said they were not consulted on key aspects of the proposed changes, which "will potentially place adults and children at risk", spokesman Antony Mahon said in a statement.

The proposals of concerns were that users would pay the full cost of pre-court dispute resolution; in most circumstances parties would not have the right to a lawyer; children would have a lawyer only in limited cases; and interim arrangements for children to be reviewed would not be allowed, said Mr Mahon.

"In cases where children are living in situations of violence and abuse, it will be harder to recognise. Hidden power and control dynamics in relationships will mean parents are intimidated into agreeing to settlements which disadvantage them or their children."

The changes would also cause delays as the court would not have the information needed to make decisions, which would intensify conflict between parties, he said.

"These are real risks for vulnerable parents and children whom the minister wants to protect."

The group recommended a "simplified" court process with clearer documentation and simpler steps.

Ms Collins said recommendations made by the Expert Reference Group were helpful in forming the Government's proposals but they "are not the only basis for the reforms", and that the recommendations had been widely consulted on.


"Mr Mahon has also made some irresponsible comments about interim arrangements for children which are simply incorrect."

"The aim of our reforms is to support parents put the needs of their children first and take responsibility for resolving their disputes outside court," she said."