A guardian is the person that has all the rights and responsibilities that a parent has in relation to their child.

These duties include:

  • providing day to day care;
  • contributing to the child’s development; and
  • making decisions on important matters affecting the child, such as those relating to health, education, place of residence, identity and culture and religion.

The mother of a child will usually always be a guardian. The father will be too, provided they were in a relationship with the mother at any time between the child’s conception and birth or if they are named on the child’s birth certificate.

Normally, a child’s parents are joint guardians and carry out their guardianship duties and responsibilities together.

If a father is not a guardian, he can apply to the Family Court to be appointed as a guardian. The Court must appoint the father as a guardian if it is in the child’s welfare and best interests to do so.

Step-parents can be appointed guardians in certain circumstances, as long as both biological parents give their consent for this to occur. In order for a step-parent to be eligible they need to have shared responsibility for the child’s care for more than one year, and must not have been involved in or convicted in any Court proceedings relating to a child or family violence.

Appointing a step-parent as an additional guardian also needs to be in the welfare and best interests of the child. This is often used as an alternative to adoption. For more information about step-parents adopting step-children, please click here.

The Court also can appoint other people as guardians for general or specific purposes.

This could be in situations where a relative or whāngai parent is raising the child instead of the biological parents and the relative or whāngai parent wants to be an additional guardian. A relative could also be appointed as an additional guardian to help the child maintain a relationship with their extended family. Whether another person is appointed as a child’s guardian depends on the particular circumstances.

Parents can also appoint testamentary guardians. Testamentary guardians will take over guardianship if the parent passes away. For more information about testamentary guardians, click here.

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