The changes in force from 1 July 2005 modernise the law about guardianship and the care of children so that the Courts can more effectively promote the interests of children and satisfy the needs of New Zealand families.

The changes affect the following areas:

Child’s Welfare

  • The new law states that the child’s welfare and best interests are the priority when making any decisions under the Act.
  • The new law allows children to express their views on any matters that affect them, and states that those views should be taken into account when making decisions concerning them.


  • The new law extends the number of people who can become guardians.  A father who lives with the child’s mother at any time between conception and birth will be a guardian.  Fathers who have their name on a child’s birth certificate will also be guardians.
  • In certain circumstances, parents can ask the Court to appoint a new partner as an additional guardian of their child. In some cases this can be done with only an administrative check by a Family Court Registrar.

Parenting Orders

  • The new law renames “custody” and “access” as “day-to-day care” and “contact”.
  • Custody and Access Orders will now be called Parenting Orders.  Parenting Orders will determine the care arrangements for the child.  Near relatives of a child and members of family groups will also be able to apply for Parenting Orders relating to that child.
  • Courts will have a wider range of options for enforcing and implementing Parenting Orders.

Rights of Appeal

  • Children who are affected by a decision of the Family Court or the District Court may now appeal that decision to the High Court.

Publication of Cases

  • The new law relaxes restrictions on the publication of reports relating to proceedings in the Family Court.  Reports may now be published so long as those reports protect the privacy of the families involved.


  • Family Court counselling will now be offered to same sex couples.