Whangarei lawyers say proposed reforms to the Family Court could increase domestic violence in poor communities.
The Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill passed its first reading in Parliament on 4 December. The bill would encourage simple family issues to be resolved outside court, leading judges to focus on the most serious cases, such as abuse or family violence.
The Government says the changes will save money and help parents resolve custody and other issues more quickly.
But lawyers specialising in Family Court work say the reforms throw up barriers, including a fee of almost $1000 per couple for the new compulsory Family Disputes Resolution service.
Lawyer Derek Whitehead said the fees and new restrictions on legal aid will cause many low-income people to either take the law into their own hands or abandon any efforts to leave dangerous situations.
He said family violence is already on the rise in Northland.