The Family Court
Using lawyers in the Family Court
Can a lawyer represent me in the Family Court?
New rules came into effect on 1 July 2020 that let lawyers represent you at the start of a care of children dispute in the Family Court.
In the past, for cases under the Care of Children Act, you were only allowed to have a lawyer represent you and appear with you in court for certain types of cases or for particular stages of your case.
Now, if you apply under the Care of Children Act for the Family Court to resolve a dispute about care arrangements (a Parenting Order) or guardianship issue (like what school your child will go to), you can have a lawyer represent you in court. A lawyer will be able to apply on your behalf and appear in court with you during the early stages of the court process.
You are also able to access Legal Aid if you qualify for it. For more information about accessing Legal Aid, see the chapter “Legal Aid and other legal help”
You don’t need to have a lawyer to take a case to the Family Court and you can represent yourself if you want to.
Can I get financial help for going to the Family Court?
In Care of Children Act cases, Legal Aid is now available for you if you qualify for it. See the chapter “Legal Aid and other legal help”
You can also get background legal help from the free Family Legal Advice Service, if your income is below a certain amount (to help you with your application, for example). The income limits for the free Family Legal Advice Service is the same as for the free Family Dispute Resolution service. See, “Do I have to pay for Family Dispute Resolution?” earlier in this chapter
Family Legal Advice Service is different from Legal Aid, and even if you don’t qualify for Legal Aid you might qualify for the free Family Legal Advice Service. Legal Aid isn’t available for dissolution of marriage (divorce).
To find an approved Family Legal Advice Service provider, contact the Family Court or go to www.justice.govt.nz and search “Find a service to help with disputes”.
Will a lawyer be appointed for my child?
In Family Court cases, the judge can arrange a lawyer to act for a child involved in the case, this lawyer is called a “lawyer for the child”.
But in Care of Children Act cases the Family Court can only appoint a lawyer for the child if the judge is concerned about the child’s safety or well-being and thinks that a lawyer for the child is necessary.
The lawyer for the child is supposed to act for the child in a way that will be best for the child’s wellbeing and best interests. The lawyer will meet with the child to find out their views, and will present those views to the court. The lawyer will also tell the child about appealing the Family Court’s decision to a higher court, and must give this advice in a way that’s appropriate to the child’s level of understanding. For more information on lawyer for the child, see www.justice.govt.nz/family/about/lawyer-for-child
Who pays the lawyer fees for the child?
If a lawyer is appointed for your child, you and the other parent will usually have to pay two thirds of the lawyer’s fees, in equal shares. You may not have to pay your share if this would cause serious hardship to you or your children or if you’re getting legal aid.
For more information on the cost of a lawyer for the child, go to www.justice.govt.nz and search “cost contribution order”.