This article discusses the Family Court system in New Zealand and in particular focuses on contact rights for children after a separation. Thanks to Kim for suggesting this topic on our Facebook page.
No family situation is the same as another so this short article can only offer general guidance. If you have a specific question we recommend talking to a lawyer as there is often no set answer and the right solution will depend on your special facts.
However, as a starting point, the Family Court will not need to be involved where the parents of a child can agree on how the child will be cared for after the parents separate. The Family Court usually only gets involved if there is no agreement.
If there is a dispute over care of a child, an application can be made to the Family Court. However, before this, the Court will generally require the parents to complete a “Parenting through Separation” course and that a Family Dispute Resolution process involving mediation has been done, which is where the two sides come to an agreement using an independent mediator.
Generally after those processes have been followed then an application can be made to the Family Court for a Court Order about the care of the children. This will cover day to day care of the child as well as times for contact for the other parent. Contact rights can be set for particular days and times if one parent has care of the child for most of the time. If the parents cannot agree on the care of the child, then a Family Court judge will need to make the decision about care and contact after hearing from all parties.
If you have a specific situation we would be happy to discuss that further with you.
We would also comment:
– if there is a risk of violence, or has been violence, then this will impact on the form that contact takes eg contact may be supervised;
– if a Parenting Order is not being followed then an application may be made for it to be enforced;
– a Parenting Order can later be varied but usually not within 2 years of the making of the original Order.
It is worth noting that there are other terms which are specific to the Court process which can be confusing such as “directions conference”, “pre-hearing conference”, “in-chambers” etc – if you have a specific question then it is best to ask someone at the Court or your lawyer to explain what they mean.
We hope this article has helped to shed some light on the Family Court System in New Zealand and the steps where there is disagreement over the care of a child after the parents separate.
This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should talk to a lawyer about your specific situation. Should you need any assistance, please contact Hannah Carey at Parry Field Lawyers (348-8480) firstname.lastname@example.org