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: “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, in a civil union with, or with the father at any point during the pregnancy.

Note:  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, ss 18, 19

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
  • 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?

If a couple split up, both parents will still stay guardians of their children. 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 you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online:

Access the free “Pregnancy Rights: Your legal options before and after pregnancy” booklet, here. 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.
Email for a hard copy:
Phone: Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley – 04 499 2928

Family Court

The Family Court website covers many topics discussed in this chapter, including how the family court works, care of children, adoption and paternity.


New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on what happens with children when parents separate.


Inland Revenue

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

Phone: 0800 221 221

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services (ANZASCS)

The ANZASCS website has information about supervised contact and lists contact details for approved providers of supervised contact services.


Alternative Dispute Resolution

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. The following list is not exhaustive:

Resolution Institute:
Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand Inc (AMINZ):
Family Works:

Oranga Tamariki/Ministry for Children

Oranga Tamariki’s website has information about the adoption process.

Phone: 0508 326 459

Department of Internal Affairs

The DIA website has information on how to obtain original birth certificates for adopted children.


Registering your child’s birth

The Smartstart website allows you to register your baby’s birth online.


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