A mother who raised concerns for the preservation of her children’s cultural identity has been awarded day to day care of the children by the Family Court.

After separating the couple moved to different parts of New Zealand. All the children had grown up in a Māori-speaking household and had been enrolled in a Kohanga Reo, a Māori immersion kindergarten, from 6 months of age.

While the mother spoke fluent Te Reo, the father was predominantly of New Zealand European ancestry and had limited knowledge of Te Reo.

The mother sought day to day care of the two youngest children.

The father raised concerns over the mother’s unstable living conditions, arguing the children’s stability could be affected. Additionally, after two years living in his care, he feared the older siblings would struggle without the younger children.

The mother’s position was that the declining use of Te Reo for the children would restrict their cultural needs and ability to attend cultural events, particularly for the younger children, who were enrolled in kindergarten by the father after spending their first few years in a Kohanga Reo.

Due to this, the younger children’s use and ability to korero Māori weakened significantly compared to the older children, who could fluently speak Te Reo.  

The Family Court considered the continuity of care, stability of the home, and both the cultural and safety needs of the children.

After assessing the circumstances of each party, the Court determined continuity of care favoured the father. However, factors such as the enrolment of the children into a non-Māori immersive kindergarten, his declining use of Te Reo in the household, and monitoring calls with their mother, hindered his case.

Ultimately the Court found that preservation of the children’s cultural identity prevailed. Their ability to thrive in a Māori speaking environment, attend Matariki celebrations and iwi festivals would not remain if they stayed in their father’s care.

Preserving and strengthening the children’s relationships with hapu, whanau and iwi was of cultural significance and would not be maintained if the children were left in the care of the father.

Therefore, day to day care of the younger children was granted to the mother. The older children who had already been immersed in Māori culture and had a strong connection to their cultural identity would remain as they were.

The result of this case highlights how much weight is given to the cultural needs of children. In weighing up the relevant factors, the Court has the discretion to choose how much weight is to be given to each factor, with more and more significance given to culture.

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