Seeking child custody in the Family Court

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If you and your partner have separated, and you can’t agree on custody of your children, the Family Court may be able to help you reach a resolution.

What is the Family Court child custody process in NZ?

Much of the process for reaching a child custody agreement happens outside the Family Court.

In an ideal world, both partners would agree on a parenting plan, which sets out care arrangements for your children. You can then reinforce this by asking the Family Court to turn your private agreement into a Consent Order, which is enforceable by the courts if either parent doesn’t do what’s been agreed.

However, if you can’t agree on a parenting plan, here’s what you’ll need to do next.

Attend a parenting through separation course

Before you can go through the Family Court child custody process, you’ll need to attend a free parenting through separation course. It takes about half a day to complete, and is designed to help you understand what’s best for your children.

Mediation through family dispute resolution

If you still can’t reach an agreement on custody, you can go to a family dispute resolution provider for mediation. They will provide an impartial mediator to help you work through your disagreement. You may be able to get help with the cost of mediation.

Apply to the Family Court for a Parenting Order

If you’ve been through the steps above, and still can’t agree on child custody, you can apply to the Family Court for a Parenting Order. A lawyer can help you with the application, and there’s a fee to apply. You may be eligible for legal aid to help with the cost of your lawyer too, so ask about this when you contact us.

The Family Court will then process your application, and give the other parent a copy with an opportunity to respond. You will get a date and time for your court appearance, and a copy of the other parent’s response.

In court, you can have a lawyer to represent you, and a support person to wait with you. Children do not attend the court, and the general public are not allowed to come in. The Family Court is less formal than other courts, so it’s less intimidating. Your lawyer will explain everything for you, and will usually speak on your behalf in the courtroom.

Once an agreement is reached in or by the court, the court can make a Final Parenting Order, which sets out your child custody arrangements and is enforceable if either party breaks the agreement.

If your child custody matter is urgent…

In some situations, such as when there’s a risk to your or your children’s safety, or your ex-partner is going to take your children outside of New Zealand, you won’t need to go through the process above. You can apply directly to the Family Court for urgent help.

It’s important to remember that going to the Family Court for child custody is a last resort. There are other ways to resolve a child custody dispute, such as mediation. But if you’ve tried all other options, and you still haven’t been able to agree with your ex-partner on child custody arrangements, then the Family Court is the next step.

Whatever stage you’re at, it’s always a good idea to talk to a lawyer as early as possible, to ensure you get the right advice and the best chance of a positive outcome.

Getting the advice of an experienced family lawyer who is well versed in child custody matters can make a big difference to the outcome. Talk to our family lawyers today and get the right advice early, so you can make the right decisions for you and your children.

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