After more than twelve years of drafting, reviewing, and several name changes, the Family Relationship Bill was presented by Acting Premier Hon. Sauni Tongatule at the sitting of the Fono Ekepule on Wednesday last week.
The draft Family Relationship law passed the first reading and was referred to the Bill’s Committee
The purpose of the Family Relationship law is to:
(a) to consolidate and simplify the law relating to marriage, and to provide for—
(i) no-fault divorce; and
(ii) the recognition of de facto relationships; and
(iii) a default position of a 50:50 division of assets when a marriage or de facto relationship ends; and
(iv) various forms of financial support to spouses and partners:
(b) to confirm that the best interests of the child are the paramount consideration in all matters relating to parenting and the care and protection of children:
(c) to confirm the responsibilities of parents to their children, and to update the law relating to adoption and guardianship:
(d) to provide the Secretary to Justice with powers to arrange for the care of children in need of care and protection:
(e) to provide a mechanism for the ongoing care of elderly parents whose children do not provide the care and support they need:
(f) to provide effective mechanisms to protect the victims of domestic violence.
If passed in its current form, the Family Relationship law will update and repeal very old laws such as Part 4 of the General Laws Act 1968 on ‘Offences Injurious to Public Morality’ in relation to married people having affairs, and scandalous conduct is also known as ‘Mau Pouli’ which if enforced, offenders will be charged and can pay a fine of $50 for offending public morality.
The Family Relationship law contains 128 sections with six main parts.
Part one contains three sections stating the preliminary matters and the purpose of the bill. Part two contains three sub-parts with marriage, de-facto relationships, and property and financial support.
The care of children and family welfare takes up two parts of the Family Relationship law and the inclusion of the first domestic violence law in Niue in part five of the bill.
During the discussions in the Fono, there were two main issues that the members mostly referred to and wanted more time for the people to have their say, on the rights given to people in de facto relationships known in Niue as ‘mau pouli’ and the implications on the adoption of children from outside the family lineage.
Veteran Common Roll member Terry Coe and the member from Avatele Pita Vakanofiti want the bill to be taken to the people first and allow an appropriate time for the people and the villages to discuss the merits of the bill.
Former Police prosecutor, now the Assemblyman of Mutalau, Makaseau Ioane raised concerns about the provisions in the bill giving authority to certain government officials and community leaders. Ioane believes that the authority to determine the matters of the family relationships law should only be determined by the court system.
Member from Lakepa John Tiakia said that he can see both the good and the bad in the draft law, but it is important that the bill is now before the parliamentary process. He does have concerns that the law is not used to remove children from their families as was seen with family laws in New Zealand.
Alofi North MP Tukuitonga raised issues in the old 1969 law with respect to the limitations of adopting from outside the family and how this Bill will address those issues, something the member said, also impacted her family.
Minister of Natural Resources Hon. Mona Ainuu said that this is a significant piece of legislation and has taken a very long time to reach the Fono but she has confidence in the parliamentary process to discuss this bill and allow the Bills committee to do their work. Hon Ainuu said that she will not expect this bill to drag on any further because this law will have a positive impact on all families.
If this Bill is passed into law, it will effectively repeal the following laws;
- Adoption Act 1955 (see sections 35 and 37 of Family Law Code 2007)
- Guardianship Act 1968 (see sections 38 to 68 of Family Law Code 2007)
- Niue Act 1966, section 69, Parts 21 to 23 (see sections 1 to 13, 15 to 26, 69, and 87 to 116 of Family Law Code 2007)
- Niue Amendment Act (No 2) 1968, Part 8 (see sections 29 to 34, and 36 of Family Law Code 2007)
- Property Law Act 1952, section 133 (see section 14 of Family Law Code 2007)
- Marriage Regulations 1970