How the Family Court settles disagreements

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How the Family Court can help

If you’ve tried to reach agreement out of court but still can’t agree, the Family Court can make decisions about the care of your children. The Court can only make orders if it is in the welfare and best interests of the children involved as well as taking the children's views into account. You can ask the Family Court for help by applying for:

  • Parenting Order if there’s a dispute about who looks after the children and when (this is called day-to-day care) or when parents and others see the children (this is called contact). If there’s a risk of violence, contact can be supervised.
  • An Order to Settle a Dispute between Guardians if you want the Family Court to make decisions about guardianship issues, like where the children live, where they go to school, medical treatment (other than routine medical matters), what their culture, language and religion will be and any changes to their name.

If you and the other parent or guardian agree on the care of your children, you can ask the Family Court to make your private agreement into a Consent Order. You don’t need help from a lawyer to get a Consent Order.

You can also ask the court to change (vary) or cancel (discharge) a Court Order if it is no longer working or no longer needed.

If the other person doesn’t follow the Court Order, you can apply to the Family Court to have it enforced.

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Who can apply

You don’t have to be a parent or guardian to apply.

You can ask the Family Court to settle disputes about how a child will be cared for if you’re:

  • a parent or guardian of the child
  • a partner of one of the parents (whether you are married or in a civil union or de facto relationship) if you're sharing day-to-day care of the child
  • a grandparent or any other member of the child's family/whānau or other family group and the court says you can apply
  • anyone else who the court says can apply.

If the parent has died or has no contact with the child, you can apply if you are that parent’s:

  • mother or father (this means you are the child’s grandparent)
  • brother or sister (this means you are the child’s aunt or uncle)
  • child (this means you are the child’s brother or sister).

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Parenting Through Separation & Family Dispute Resolution

If you want to apply to the Family Court, you usually need to have done a Parenting Through Separation course within the last 2 years and Family Dispute Resolution mediation within the last 1 year.

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Watch a video about settling disputes in the Family Court

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