When a couple separates, there is sometimes a major dispute when parents or caregivers can’t agree on the care arrangements for their children. Communication has broken down and mediation hasn’t worked, so one parent (or both) applies to the Family Court to decide the details of the children’s care.
What does the Family Court take into account when dealing with battling parents or caregivers? Many parents say, “I want to care for my kids, but I still want the other parent involved in their lives.” Others say, “Why should I participate? The other side is going to win anyway.” The reality is that not only legally but also morally, children have a right to a relationship with both Mum and Dad.
Historically, it was common practice in the western world for the mother to stay home with the children, while the father went to work. Mum is a full-time parent — or the more ‘hands-on’ parent. So when Mum and Dad separate, the assumption is that the children stay with Mum.
Inevitably, the relationship between the children and Dad starts to fade. They’ve gone from seeing Dad every day, to visiting him in the weekends or the holidays, or sometimes not at all.
The situation becomes worse when communication between the parents breaks down. The children start to feel that they have to pick sides. These assumptions and scenarios often come up in court.
A number of people believe that the Family Court is biased towards mothers. Some have also mentioned that they don’t think they will get a say about their children’s care — because they have been violent, or they have a history of criminal activity or drug abuse.
There are cases where one parent hasn’t participated in the proceedings, apparently due to these incorrect assumptions.
The court, however, has a duty to put children at the forefront of its decisions, and this is assisted by input from both their parents or caregivers.
At a hearing, the court follows the objectives and principles of the Care of Children Act 2004.
The paramount principle is that the court must act in the welfare and best interests of a child. In order to determine that, the court looks at other principles, one of which is that children have a right to a relationship with both parents (and wider whānau). The Family Court is aware of studies and statistics confirming that children thrive more when both parents are involved (safely) in their day-to-day lives.
It is very unusual for the Family Court to make an order that doesn’t make provision for both parents to care for their children.
It is important that both parents participate so they both get a say in their children’s care. If a parent doesn’t take part in the proceedings, a decision will be made without their input. Once a final decision is made, it could be a long time before it is looked at by a court again.
If there are live Family Court proceedings about the care of your children or children in your wider family, make sure you contact our family lawyers and actively participate in the court process. It doesn’t matter if you saw your children yesterday or if you haven’t seen them in years, you are their parent and your voice matters. Otherwise, it will be your children who will be the ones missing out.