One of the most common areas of confusion for parents involved in a parenting dispute is the idea of guardianship and what it actually means.

When a child is born, their parents automatically become their legal guardians. There are exceptions to this, however, that is the most common scenario.

As guardians, parents hold all duties, powers, rights and responsibilities concerning their child’s upbringing. In other words, parents are responsible for making the important decisions that impact their child’s life, such as where they live, what school they go to, what medical care they receive and so on. When parents remain in a relationship, they usually make big decisions that affect their children together and by agreement.


Guardianship following separation

Things can become difficult when parents separate and may no longer be on the same page about their children’s upbringing. It’s important that parents remember that even after they separate, they must still try and reach agreement about the big decisions affecting their children.

One of those big decisions often overlooked is where their child goes to school. Parents often assume that they are able to make that decision without consulting with the other parent; however that is not the case. Parents need to remember that even if they are the primary caregiver, that does not give them more decision-making power than the other guardian. Even if one parent only sees their child once a month, they ordinarily still hold an equal guardianship role and must be consulted about big decisions affecting the child’s life.


Relocating with your children

If you want to relocate with your child and the other parent does not agree, you must make an application to the Family Court to settle a dispute between guardians. When deciding whether the child can move, the Court’s paramount consideration is whether the relocation will promote the child’s welfare and best interests.

One of the factors the Court places significant weight on when making this decision is maintaining the child’s relationship with both parents and both sides of their whanau. It is often the case that allowing one parent to relocate creates a significant risk that the child’s relationship with the other parent will be cut off or limited. This consideration alone creates a very high threshold. It can be very difficult to convince the Court that relocating away from one of their parents is in a child’s welfare and best interests.

If one parent decides to relocate with the child and does not obtain the other parent’s consent, that other parent can make an application to the Family Court on an urgent basis for an order returning the child back to the region where they were moved from.

Breaching guardianship obligations is taken very seriously by the Courts. It is imperative that parents consult with one another about all the big decisions affecting a child.

See our Relocation of Children article to learn more about relocating with children following separation.


If you would like more assistance with this or other child care issues, please contact our expert family lawyers for a confidential discussion on 04 472 0020.

If you have any questions about these or other family law issues, please feel free to contact our Wellington and Rotorua based family law experts:

Guardianship - Family Law | JB Morrison