New legislation came into force on 1 July 2020 which changes when a party is allowed to have a lawyer acting for them in the Family Court.
These changes undo some of the reforms that took place in 2014. Because of those reforms, there were only limited times when lawyers could act in the first steps in a parenting or guardianship proceeding, including filing applications.
In particular, lawyers could not act in respect of applications that were filed “on notice”.
When an application is filed on notice, it means the other party involved is served with the proceedings and can file a reply before a Judge looks at the application. The other option is to file an application “without notice”. Without notice applications are filed where there is a problem that needs to be dealt with urgently. This would be in cases where there would be undue hardship or a risk to safety if the application is not dealt with urgently.
Unfortunately, one of the consequences of the 2014 reforms was that the number of without notice applications increased, which has had an ongoing detrimental impact on the operation of the Family Court.
The Family Court (Supporting Families in Court) Legislation Act 2020 came into force on 1 July 2020 and reverses some of the 2014 reforms:
- A lawyer can now act for a party that is filing an on notice application for a parenting or guardianship matter.
- If a party filed an on notice application before 1 July, a lawyer can act without needing the Court to issue a direction that lawyers can act.
- Legal aid is available for these types of proceedings.
Parties can still represent themselves if they want to but, for parties who do want to have a lawyer help them prepare and file an application and start the Court process, that is now an option.
These changes are intended to make it easier for parties to have access to legal advice early in the process. This can reduce the stress and confusion that some parties have experienced when trying to navigate the Family Court process on their own.
More information about the changes is available here on the Ministry of Justice website.