Separation can be a difficult – and confusing – time for both parents and children. We’ve distilled the top 5 things you need to know about parenting arrangements after separation in New Zealand.
1 – Uphold the best interests of the child
The overriding consideration is that the parenting arrangements have to be in the welfare and best interests of the child. The starting point is therefore not strictly speaking what each parent wants. The parents should work from a child-centered position and ask themselves, ‘what is in the best interests of my child’?
Relevant child-centred principles include:
- The child’s care, development, and upbringing should primarily be the responsibility of his or her parents and guardians.
- A child should have a relationship with both of his or her parents.
These are not absolute, but in most cases, (the exceptions are risk of abuse, exposure to violence, etc) taking these principles into account will give the best outcome for the child.
2 – Communicate with your ex-partner
If you can, try to agree on parenting arrangements.
Ongoing disputes between separated parents can be emotionally damaging to children. On the other hand, children whose parents minimise conflict have outcomes that are the same as children whose parents are still together.
A free Parenting Through Separation course is a good way to help parents understand and manage the needs of their children after separation.
3 – Make parenting arrangements predictable
Making fixed parenting arrangements is much better for the children than changing and uncertain arrangements. Children, even very young children, should know that when Mum or Dad is going to pick them up on a certain day at a certain time, that is going to happen.
For high-conflict situations, parenting arrangements may never be changed because parents cannot communicate with each other and agree on changes. However, most parents manage to work through changes to suit the parents or the children.
Every situation is different, but the trend is towards parents having roughly equal time with the children, i.e. shared care.
Put your parenting arrangement agreement in writing
It is a good idea to have the arrangements in writing so that there is certainty. There is no specific form, but at a minimum, there should be agreement on where the children will be at a particular time. Pickup and drop-off days and times should therefore be agreed upon.
The arrangement does not have to be made a court order. The Family Court should be a last resort and only be used if attempts to agree on parenting arrangements do not work.
4 – Can’t agree? Family dispute resolution services provide unbiased help
If you and your ex-partner can’t agree on parenting arrangements, get a neutral outsider to help you reach an agreement. This process is known as Family Dispute Resolution.
A mediator helps parties reach an agreement. The mediator does not make any decisions for the parties.
Family Dispute Resolution costs $448.50 for each parent. You may be able to obtain government funding to cover the costs if you cannot afford the cost.
There is more information about Family Dispute Resolution on the Ministry of Justice website here.
5 – Still can’t agree? The Family Court will decide
If you and your ex-partner still cannot agree on parenting arrangements, then you or your ex-partner can apply to the Family Court for orders. Unless the application is urgent (a high-risk situation of serious harm or undue hardship), you first have to complete the Parenting Through Separation course and attempt Family Dispute Resolution.
We can help you with the process, but in summary:
- Evidence is filed;
- There is an opportunity to agree at a settlement conference with a judge assisting the parties to reach an agreement;
- If that fails, then there is a hearing and the judge gives his or her judgment.
by Clinton Light, Special Counsel, Shine Lawyers, Christchurch.
Shine Lawyers provide expert legal advice on parenting arrangements
Shine Lawyers New Zealand has a wealth of experience representing clients going through separation or protecting their assets in a new relationship. Our depth of experience ensures we are able to achieve the best result possible for our clients, helping them get the outcome they need so they can move forward with their lives.
Feel free to phone us to discuss, or make an appointment to come in to meet us, so that we can start helping you to come up with solutions.