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Current Issues in Family Law

Thursday October 13, 2016

Debbie Dunbar, Partner and Maretta Twentyman, Senior Solicitor, of Morrison Kent joined Khyathi Khirbath of Legalwise Seminars to discuss current issues in the area of family law, in advance of their upcoming seminar on spousal maintenance.

Debbie Dunbar has specialised in family law throughout her career, having developed extensive knowledge in the area. She leads Morrison Kent's family law team and focuses on separation issues, relationship property and contested estate matters.

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Maretta Twentyman specialises in family law, with a focus on relationship property, contested estates and child care issues.

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You can hear directly from Debbie and Maretta in Wellington at the upcoming Family Law: Property and Financial Matters  on 09 November 2016. 

You can find the transcript of the Q&A below.

What are some of the challenges facing family lawyers today?

First of all, there are the obvious issues with the legal aid system, including the disinclination of many lawyers to continue offering this service. Unfortunately this impacts on access to justice for people in many parts of the country, and is leading to the increase of online legal services being offered (with the associated pros and cons).   

Secondly, the reforms regulating when a party can or cannot be legally represented were well-intentioned, but in our view have led to a variety of (anticipated) issues - including the increase of without notice applications taking up judicial time, and evidential issues in early pleadings which lawyers have to grapple with when they later pick up the proceedings.

Then you have the usuals - backlog in the Family Court system, lack of funding leading to delays and inefficiencies etc.

What’s a key consideration to keep in mind when dealing with spousal maintenance claims?

The need to take early action when it comes to interim maintenance - avoiding that common delay which can prejudice your case. There is also the need to adequately evidence your claim. A surprising number of maintenance cases involve the Judge reducing a claim simply because there was nothing substantiating the figures.

Financial statements: a family lawyer’s best friend or worst enemy?

Best friend! You cannot make a claim without them. They are a good way to ensure you cover your bases, and detailed financial statements can be very compelling.

What’s one advocacy tip parties can use to improve their results in court?

It seems trite, but thorough preparation is the key.

What are some of the trends and developments you see ahead in the family law area?

A review of trust laws - the Law Commission's Review of the Law of Trusts in 2013 made several recommendations which would impact on the area of relationship property, and the remedies available where trusts are involved. The suggested reforms to deal with problems at the interface between relationship property and trusts were that:

  • The section 44C Property (Relationships) Act remedies should be expanded and the court should be given the power to make an order requiring the trustees to pay a specified sum of transfer property of the trust to compensate the partner whose rights were defeated; and

  • Section 182 of the Family Proceedings Act should apply to de facto partners.

Even without the Law Commission's suggestions being implemented (as yet), case law in this area is developing at a rapid pace and already providing new avenues for parties. It is likely that these issues will be addressed further in the Law Commission's review of the Property (Relationships) Act which started in May this year.

You can hear directly from Debbie and Maretta in Wellington at the upcoming Family Law: Property and Financial Matters  on 09 November 2016.

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