Family Court lawyer walks away from broken system


After nearly 20 years as a Family Court lawyer, Gareth Bodle is walking away.

He says it’s partly because he’s tired of struggling with a broken system where he can’t make headway for his clients.

In one case, Bodle’s client has been waiting for access to relationship property since 2014. These delays cause years of anguish and cost vast amounts of money, he says.

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 doesn’t help. Two years after the Law Commission said it wasn’t fit for purpose, it’s still being used.

A woman whose family has been going through the system agrees. Heather Mackay says she is challenging the “idiocy” of the Family Court which she says is having a detrimental effect on her daughter and grandchildren.

“Separation alone is traumatic, an acrimonious separation is even worse. But having the Family Court involved is certainly an eye-opener into how failed a system can be,” she says.

One failing is an inability to make firm decisions, leaving matters unresolved, she says. “The rest of us have to make decisions all the time and stand by them.”

She’d like less interference from the courts and lawyers in disputes which are often destructive, making family issues worse. Less paperwork and processing and timelines with deadlines would help, she says.

“And don’t allow the court system to play out to one side. It seems like they’re bending over backwards for the wrong person.”

She doesn’t think the Family Court is working for families. In fact she’d prefer they weren’t there.

Mackay and her daughter hope to meet their MP to discuss their concerns. She’s anticipating a fob off and more frustration neither of them can cope with another day of “utter disorganisation and idiocy,” she says.

Bodle echoes the same sentiment.

Society and the Government are correctly concerned about social issues. As a result, judicial appointments in the Family Court are predominantly coming from strong care and protection backgrounds.

Dealing with domestic trauma takes a different set of skills to resolving complex property disputes. Judges lack commercial experience, he says.

“The District Court threshold for commercial cases is $200,000. We do relationship property that can involve tens of millions. They (some judges) do not understand commercial law. We can stop a kid getting out of the country in a matter of hours but money can move in an instant.”

Another issue is the lack of action by judges, which sends the wrong signals. “It’s just a message that if you want to take the risk, you can rort the system.”

Judges have to be brave, he says. These are people, their lives and livelihoods.

He pays tribute to the Family Court judges who have to use multiple acts of law as they preside over issues. They work hard and are often lied to. But he wants to see the Contempt of Court Act 2019 used to sort this out. It carries a penalty of up to six months jail or a $25,000 fine.

Although he’s done with Court work, he’s about to use his expertise elsewhere, however – possibly helping refugees, he says.






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News category: New Zealand.