exceptions.1225 Property matters must be referred to conciliation before a registrar for an Order 24 conference.1226 It is possible for a joint conciliation conference for children’s and property matters to be conducted by registrars and counsellors.1227
12.79We recognise the merit of conciliation conferences as a process of dealing both with the emotional and legal process of divorce. Our legal system has neglected taking cognisance of the emotional process of divorce. A mandatory counselling conference gives all parties the opportunity to resolve some of the issues that block parents from focusing on the best interests of the children. This should lead to less entrenchment of positions by the parties that can block resolution and earlier settlement of disputes. If parties settle their differences at a counselling conference then they can proceed to have a consent order drawn up and the need for mediation is avoided.
12.80We recommend the introduction of a process similar to the Australian conciliation conference, but prefer the term “counselling conference” in order to avoid any confusion with mediation. We recommend that the counselling conference be a necessary stage in the court process. It would be seen as an integral part of the case management process of the court system. We recommend that the Support Services Coordinator (SSC) should advise the judge in writing as to whether the parties have or have not attended the counselling conference, so that the next stage in the process can be initiated.
12.81If there are disputes between parents on both financial and children’s issues, then there should be a joint counselling conference dealing with such issues together. We recommend that the conferences could be run by mediators or counsellors, and should be publicly funded.
12.82We note that our recommendations on the court processes are different to the recommendations in the Hartmann Working Group Report, which have not yet been implemented. It is a matter for the Administration to decide how to reconcile our recommendations with those of the Hartmann Working Group, and the extent to which each set of recommendations is to be implemented.
Support Services Co-ordinator
12.83Section 8 of the New Zealand Family Courts Act 1980 provides that the duty of the Co-ordinator is to facilitate the proper functioning of the Family Court and of counselling and related services such as mediation.1228 There are 40 Co-ordinators based at 24 Family Courts who make referrals to 500 individuals or agencies throughout New Zealand. The Co-ordinator will make the referral to specialist services where necessary.
1225 Ibid at section 65F as substituted by the 1995 Act. The exceptions are orders by consent, interim or urgent orders, where attendance would be impracticable or there are special circumstances such as family violence.
1226 Section 79(9).
1227 According to Brown, “Developing and Implementing Family Court Services: The Family Court of Australia”, paper presented at the Second World Congress on Family Law and the Rights of Children and Youth, June 1997.
1228 See chapter 9 supra.