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Care arrangements when parents have separated


When the parents of a child separate, one of the most important issues to work out is how you’ll arrange the care of your child, including whether one or both parents will have day-to-day care and if only one parent has day-to-day care, when and how the other parent will have contact with the child.

It’s much better if the parents can reach an agreement themselves about care arrangements. The Care of Children Act specifically refers to these kinds of agreements as “parenting agreements”. Although a parenting agreement isn’t legally binding like a court order or a commercial contract, the Family Court can turn a parenting agreement into a court order called a “Consent Order”. See below “Parenting agreements

If you can’t reach an agreement, you can apply to the Family Court for a “Parenting Order”. There are two ways you can apply for a Parenting Order; a “without notice” application or a “with notice” application. If your case is not urgent, your case will follow the “with notice” track. See below “Parenting Orders

A without notice application is an urgent case that can be looked at without the other person being told about your application, your case will follow the “without notice track”. See below “Urgent cases: The “without notice” track”

For more information on the different orders the Family Court can make, go to www.justice.govt.nz and search “Care of children process overview map”.

Ways of resolving disputes about care arrangements

The Family Court provides access to a Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) service, where a mediator will help you try to reach an agreement. This process is free to people whose income is below a certain amount; other people will need to pay. See “‘Family Dispute Resolution’: Mediation through the Family Court” earlier in this chapter

If you decide to take your dispute to the Family Court, you and the other person usually have to go through the Family Dispute Resolution process with an approved FDR mediator first. You (the person applying) usually have to go to a Parenting Through Separation course through the Family Court.

In some cases the judge may arrange a lawyer to represent your child. See, “Will a lawyer be appointed for your child” earlier in this chapter

If the dispute isn’t resolved at an earlier stage, such as at a settlement conference, the last resort will be a court hearing (a “defended hearing”) where a Family Court Judge will decide what the care arrangements will be. See in this section, “The court hearing: How the judge decides what to do

“Parenting Through Separation” courses

The Family Court provides free “Parenting Through Separation” courses, to help separated parents understand how separation affects their children and to help them manage the process and deal more constructively with each other.

The course is four hours long, held over one or two days. The courses are run by an experienced facilitator to small groups. Your group will include other parents who are separated or who are thinking about separating.

Note: If your ex-partner also goes to one of the courses, they won’t be at the same sessions as you.

If you want to apply for a Parenting Order from the Family Court you usually have to have attended a Parenting Through Separation course in the last two years.

Benefits from Work and Income when you’ve separated

To get a benefit from Work and Income when you’ve separated from your children’s other parent, see the chapter “Dealing with Work and Income”, under “Types of benefits”. See “How much child support will I get paid?” for how a Family Court Parenting Order may effect what kind of benefit you may be able to get

Next Section | Parenting agreements

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Parents, guardians and caregivers

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide initial free legal advice and information.

Oranga Tamariki / Ministry for Children


Phone: 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459)
Email: enquiry@ot.govt.nz

This web page has information about the adoption process.

Family Court


The Family Court website includes information on the topics in this chapter.

Family Court fee waiver forms


Department of Internal Affairs


This DIA webpage has information on how to obtain original birth certificates for adopted children.

Parents can now register their baby’s birth online at: www.smartstart.services.govt.nz/register-my-baby

“What happens to your children when you part?” (pamphlet)

Phone: (04) 472 7837
Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

This New Zealand Law Society pamphlet covers guardianship, care of and contact with children, how disputes are resolved, and other child-focused issues. Access the pamphlet online or order hardcopies from the New Zealand Law Society.

Inland Revenue


Phone: 0800 221 221

Inland Revenue’s Child Support webpage has a wide range of forms and guides for parents and caregivers.

Alternative dispute resolution

www.resolution.institute – Resolution Institute is a community of mediators, arbitrators, adjudicators, restorative justice practitioners and other DR professionals.

www.aminz.org.nz – AMINZ (Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand).

There are many kinds of “alternative dispute resolution” that, depending on your personal situation, may be cheaper and more successful than going to the Family Court. These include counselling, mediation and negotiation. You can find out more at the above websites

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services


The ANZASCS website has information about organisations that are approved as providers of supervised contact services.

“Pregnancy Rights: Your legal options before and after pregnancy” booklet


This booklet contains practical answers to questions about pregnancy and the law, and includes information on sexual health and consent, options after a positive pregnancy test, healthcare, education, housing and more.

Order hard copies from:
Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley
Phone: (04) 499 2928

Email: publications@wclc.org.nz or visit www.communitylaw.org.nz to buy a copy or access free online.

Also available as a book

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