Day-to-day care and contact with children (previously known as custody and access) is dealt with by the Care of Children Act 2004 (“the Act”). If arrangements for children cannot be agreed, or there are safety or other concerns at play, an application for a parenting order may need to be made to the Family Court.

Grandparents are not eligible to apply for parenting orders as of right. They fall into the category of ‘members of the child’s wider family, whānau or family group’ and are generally only able to apply for an order with special leave of the court. The situation is different if a parent of the child has died, been refused contact by a court or is making no attempt to have contact with the child. In those circumstances, parents and family members of that particular parent do not require leave.

It is widely acknowledged in the Act and by the courts that grandparents can have an important role in the lives of their grandchildren. The Act records that one of the principles relating to a child’s welfare and best interests is that the relationship with their family group, whānau, hāpu or iwi should be preserved and strengthened. When making decisions about a child’s life, the court is required to balance this against various other factors, including the principle that a child’s care, development and upbringing should primarily be the responsibility of the parents and guardians.

It is generally advisable that grandparents also seek appointment as additional guardians of children when they are applying for parenting orders. This will enable them to participate in important decisions about the child’s life, such as where they should go to school and any changes to their name.    

Depending on the circumstances, grandparents may first have to go through the Family Dispute Resolution (‘FDR’) process before applying to the court for orders. FDR is a mediation service that aims to resolve disputes between parents, guardians and other people involved in a child’s life. FDR is mandatory in some cases, and a court application must be accompanied by a completed FDR form unless one of the prescribed exceptions applies. The exceptions include situations where applications are made to the court without notice (urgently), or where there have been issues of domestic violence between the parties.

If you have any questions about these matters or require any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.