Guardianship of children

Parents as guardians

Care of Children Act 2004, s 17

The parents are usually automatically guardians of the child together. However, in some situations the mother may be the child’s sole (only) guardian.

Parents are often called “natural” guardians. There are other types of guardians such as “testamentary” guardians (who are appointed in a parent’s will) or court-appointed guardians. See below, “Other people as guardians”

When will a mother be a sole guardian?

The mother is the sole (only) guardian of a child if she wasn’t married to or in a civil union with the child’s father at any point during the pregnancy, and she wasn’t living with the father at any point during the pregnancy.

Slightly different rules apply if the child was conceived before July 2005. In this case, the mother is the sole (only) guardian of a child if she wasn’t married to or in a civil union with the child’s father at any point during the pregnancy, and she wasn’t living with the father when the child was born.

What if the father is not a guardian?

Care of Children Act 2004, s 18

If a child’s father is not a guardian because of the above circumstances and wants to become a guardian, here are some options:

  • both parents register him as the father on the child’s birth certificate as part of the child’s birth information under the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995, or

Care of Children Act 2004, s 19

  • apply to the Family Court to be appointed as a guardian of the child. The court must appoint the father as a guardian unless it would be against the welfare and best interests of the child.

What happens if parents’ split up?

Care of Children Act 2004, s 163

If a couple split up, both parents will stay guardians. This means one parent can’t make important decisions about the child on their own. For example, when parents split up, one parent can’t simply decide to move with the child to a different city and ignore what the other parent wants.

Did this answer your question?

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)

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:

“What happens to your children when you part?” (pamphlet)
Phone: (04) 472 7837

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 – Resolution Institute is a community of mediators, arbitrators, adjudicators, restorative justice practitioners and other DR professionals. – 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: or visit to buy a copy or access free online.

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top