The Family Court
Overview of the Family Court
What types of cases does the Family Court deal with?
The Family Court deals with lots of family law issues, including:
- guardianship, including appointing guardians and resolving disputes between them, see “Guardianship of children” in this chapter
- care arrangements for children, see “Care arrangements when parents have separated” in this chapter
- abuse and neglect of children, see the chapter “Dealing with Oranga Tamariki / Ministry for Children”
- adoption, see “Adoption” in this chapter
- separation and dissolution (divorce) for marriages and civil unions, see the chapter “Relationships and break-ups”
- relationship property, see the chapter “Relationships and break-ups”
- family violence (the law used to call “domestic” violence), see the chapter “Family violence and elder abuse”
- disputes about wills, see the chapter “Wills”
- mental health compulsory assessment and treatment, see the chapter “Mental health”
- decision-making for people who lose the ability to make decisions for themselves, see the chapter “Decision making and powers of attorney”
What’s it like in the Family Court?
The Family Court Act requires the Family Court to be less formal than other courts. The court room can sometimes be set up less formally than other courts so people can talk more freely.
The rules around evidence are also more flexible in the Family Court too. The judges are allowed to accept a wide variety of evidence, including evidence that wouldn’t be allowed in other courts.
About the judges and the court staff
- Judges – To be appointed as a Family Court Judge, you need at least seven years’ experience as a lawyer, and you must also have the right training, experience and personality for dealing with family disputes.
- Registry staff – The Family Court registry staff make some of the decisions that keep a case moving towards a final decision by a judge, for example, scheduling when the next step in the case has to be completed. The registry staff are also responsible for managing individual cases: if you have a question about your own case you should contact the staff member whose name is on any letters you’ve received from the Family Court about your case.
- Family Court Coordinator – The coordinator can give you information about the court and its services. They also communicate with other people involved in Family Court processes such as specialist report writers (psychologists for example), social workers and lawyers appointed for children. Most Family Courts have a coordinator. If it’s a smaller Family Court that doesn’t have one, the court manager will be able to help you.
- Kaiārahi – This is a new role for the Family Court, announced in April 2021. Kaiārahi are Family Court navigators that work in the community to give you information about the Family Court process and the different options you have when you take an issue to the Family Court. To get in touch with a kaiārahi, you can contact your nearest Family Court.