You may now be able to have care or guardianship of a child under new child law. The law change is based on the current diversity of family arrangements for the care of children, including the nuclear family, single-parents and same-sex couples.  It also places a stronger emphasis on the rights and the views of the child.  There are a number of significant points to note:

  • Children’s views must be sought and taken into account.  This relates to any proceedings involving the guardianship of, day-to-day care for, or contact with the child or the administration of property belonging to the child or held in trust for the child.
  • In Court cases that involve the day-to-day care or contact of a child, the Court must appoint a lawyer to act for the child.
  • A wider group of people will be entitled to apply to the Court for the care of a child.  Newly included people are:
    • de facto partners (minimum age of 16) who are not the parent of the child.  This includes same-sex de facto partners.
    • Eligible step-parents.
    • The child’s extended family/whanau or culturally recognised family group (with the Court’s permission).
  • There is a wider group of people entitled to be guardians of a child.  Guardianship is commonly recognised as the bundle of rights concerning the upbringing of a child including decisions about education, religion, medical procedures and the child’s physical and emotional development.  It also normally includes the day-to-day care of a child.
  • The father will now be a guardian if he has lived with the mother at any time between conception and birth – if the child is conceived on or after 1 July 2005.  Under the previous law it was only if he was living with the mother at the time of birth.
  • If the father’s name is correctly placed on the birth certificate he will automatically be a guardian of the child (if the father is registered on the birth certificate after 1 July 2005).
  • It will be unusual for guardianship to be terminated before the child turns 18 (a new statutory age limit, down from 20).  However, if the child becomes a parent, at whatever age, guardianship rights will end.

Given the current diversity of family setups in New Zealand a wider group of people is now entitled to care for children of a relationship.  To balance this, the child has a greater say in decisions.  This legislation will have a significant impact on the rights of children and their caregivers.