Parenting and guardianship

Here you'll find out who can be a guardian, how to appoint or remove a guardian, what responsibilies guardians have and what rights children have.

On this page:

What being a guardian means

A legal guardian is an adult who's responsible for the upbringing and care of a child. Guardians have the same responsibilites as a biological parent.

As a parent or guardian, you'll work with other people to make decisions about your children. This includes making decisions about their schools, healthcare, religion, culture and language and about where they live.

Find out more about a guardian’s responsibilities 

Find out more about guardianship and children's rights

Find out more about making decisions about your children

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Who can be a guardian

All mothers and most fathers are automatically guardians of their children at birth. If a couple breaks up, they will still be guardians of their children and should try to make decisions together to guide their children's upbringing and development.

The Family Court can make another adult a child’s guardian. This person could be a grandparent or a parent’s new partner.

A child can have more than one guardian.

Find out more about who can be a guardian 

Find out more abour appointing and removing guardians

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Types of guardians

Natural guardians

A child’s parents are also known as natural guardians.

Court-appointed guardians

Other people can apply to the Family Court to be a child’s guardian. These people include a grandparent or other relative, or a parent’s new partner.

The Family Court can also appoint a guardian if no one has applied to be one.  It can do this if:

  • someone is acting as a guardian even though they’re not formally a guardian
  • both parents have died without naming a testamentary guardian
  • neither parent can look after the child for a time.

Testamentary guardians

A parent can name a person in their will (or another formal legal document) to be a testamentary guardian if the parent dies. A testamentary guardian's role is similar to other guardians of the child except they don’t have the right to day-to-day care of the child.

Guardianship of the court

The High Court or Family Court can sometimes appoint itself as a child’s legal guardian. The court usually appoints Oranga Tamariki to be the guardian as an agent of the court. The people who can ask the court to do this are:

  • the child’s parents or guardians
  • a parent’s partner (if they’ve been helping take care of the child)
  • the child.

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Disputes between guardians

Sometimes guardians cannot agree on arrangements for children, such as where they will live or go to school. Guardians can access services outside of court to help settle these matters. If that doesn't work, they can apply through the Family Court for an Order to Settle a Dispute between Guardians.

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Legal help and advice

You might find it useful to talk to a lawyer about guardianship. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you:

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