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Referral for counselling

9.98There are 40 Co-ordinators based at 24 Family Courts who make referrals to 500 individuals or agencies throughout New Zealand.  Counselling is provided by marriage guidance counsellors (between 25%-30%), private practitioners with social work or clinical psychology experience and training (55%) and a variety of community agencies.1040

9.99The Co-ordinator can refer cases for counselling when it is apparent that there will be a contested dispute.  Virtually all custody, access, guardianship and domestic violence applications are referred for counselling or mediation.  Proceedings are held in abeyance, unless there are very urgent applications, until the counsellor advises the court that counselling cannot resolve the dispute.

9.100A research report by the Policy and Research Division of the Department of Justice1041 found that very few people refused to attend, though wives complained of a reluctance by men to attend.  One Co-ordinator said that 90% of clients she had referred for counselling had attended.  

9.101One shortcoming of the existing law highlighted by the Co-ordinators is the fact that section 9 cannot be used for those whose marriage has been dissolved because referral must be “in respect of the marriage”.  Co-ordinators recommended that referral should also be available for disputes over custody and access which arise after divorce.

Case management and the Co-ordinator

9.102The case manager’s role is to ensure that the case progresses smoothly by supervision of the process at every stage.  A practice note from the Principal Family Court Judge designated the Counsel for the Child (who is the child’s separate representative) as the case manager in every proceedings.  Notwithstanding this clear direction, in a research report on the Family Court Judges,1042 four of the judges saw the Co-ordinator as having the role of case manager.1043

9.103There is therefore considerable practical importance in the early appointment of Counsel for the Child to ensure effective management of the case.  The research noted that Counsel for the Child is sometimes only appointed at a very late stage, after the appointment has been suggested by the family counsellor in the case.  If the Co-ordinators had more time to assess the case at an early stage, they could have made recommendations for the appointment of Counsel for the Child at the outset of the proceedings

1040 Information disclosed by Maxwell in Family Court Counselling and the Changing New Zealand Family (1989), Policy and Research Division of the Department of Justice.

1041 Harland, Counselling Co-ordinator’s Group Discussion.  Family Court Custody and Access Research Report (No 5: 1991)

1042 A Survey of Family Court Judges, Report No 6, October 1993.

1043 This confusion as to the role of the Co-ordinator extended to other areas.  The research report found that many of the judges thought that the Co-ordinator played additional roles such as arranging or advising on specialist referrals and Counsel for the Child.  Other roles thought to fall within the Co-ordinator’s area of responsibility included emergency counselling and providing information to the public.

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