The Family Court

Families who are working with us may sometimes also need the involvement of the Family Court.This section gives a simple explanation of what involvement the Family Court may have when families are working with us.

What is the Family Court?

The Family Court is where decisions are made about a child's welfare. The law says that what's best for your child is the most important consideration.

If we've been in contact with a family and the Family Court is involved, it is usually because there are concerns about a child's well being or safety.

The Family Court is usually quite small, not too formal and the court sessions are often quite short.

People who may be at the Family Court are:

  • Parents may attend along with their lawyer.
  • The judge who makes the decisions about the child and always has to think about what's best for your child.
  • The child's court-appointed lawyer who will make sure that the child's views and wishes are heard.
  • Family, whanau and other support people can attend if the parents wish.
  • The social worker who will explain why they think there are concerns for the child  and what they think might need to happen.

A step by step guide to the Family Court process

STEP ONE: What happens first

The social worker or police go to the Family Court with worries about the child. The judge will make a decision about what is best for the child. If the judge thinks the situation is

  • Urgent: The child will come into our care to make sure they are safe.
  • Not urgent: Things might stay as they are for now.

Then we'll ask the family to come to a family group conference.

If a social worker or the police think that the child is in serious danger of harm, they can go to the Family Court directly, before a family group conference is held. They will ask that the child is placed in our care for the time being.

STEP TWO: The family helps make decisions

It's important that the family are involved in making decisions about how to provide the best care for their child.

We will work together with the family, whānau and others to come up with a plan that will keep the child safe and well looked after.

  • The family and whānau go to a family group conference.
  • They will help make a plan to keep your child safe and well cared for.

The plan may need to go back to the Family Court.

STEP THREE: At the Family Court

The main things the Family Court will decide on are whether the child needs 'care or protection.'

The court makes a formal statement that says there are concerns for the child's care or safety.

They will also decide whether the child needs to come into our care to be safe and well cared for. This will have already been discussed at the family group conference.

A plan for the child's safety and wellbeing.

  • If the family have agreed on a plan at the FGC, the Court will use this plan to decide what's best for the child;
  • If they haven't agreed on the plan, the Court will decide on a plan for the child.
  • They may also make court orders to help with carrying out the plan.



STEP FOUR: Carrying out the plan

The plan is carried out to keep the child safe and well cared for.

The social worker will talk with the family about the plan, and meet together to talk about how the plan is going and whether anything needs to be changed.
The Court will make sure that the plan is meeting the child's needs for care and safety.

If the child is living away from home and the plan is for them to come back home in the future, the plan will say what the family and others will need to do, and when it needs to be done by.

The plan that is made for your child will be reviewed:

  • at least once every six months if your child is under seven
  • at least once a year if your child is seven or over.

Court Orders

The plan can recommend that the Court makes other decisions, known as court orders, to help with the care and safety of the child.

Here are some of the types of court orders you might come across:

Services order
The court might make sure services are given to help the child and family, like counselling, help in the home, help with parenting skills, or after-school activities.

Support order
This is similar to a services order, but also means that the people providing help will stay involved with the child and their caregivers to make sure everything is going well and the child is well cared for.

Restraining order
This is to stop a person from doing things that harm the child. It may mean that the person can't live with the child, go near them or anyone else they live with, or be threatening, violent or abusive to the child.

Custody order
If the Court believes a child should not stay at home for the time being, it can make a custody order that says who will care for the child. The Court will make every effort to ensure that the child stays with their wider family or whanau.

Guardianship order
The child's guardian is their mother and often their father. A guardian needs to make important decisions for the child like their religion, school and health needs. Often the guardian will also be the person who has custody of the child. In other words, the person who looks after the child day-to-day.

The court may also appoint 'additional guardians'. This means they will make the important decisions, if the child's other guardians can't or need help with the decisions.

Assessment orders
The court might ask for the child or an important adult in the child's life to be seen by a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. This is so the Court can have the right information, to make the best decision about the child's care or safety.

Anyone in your family can apply to the Court to have an order changed if they are unhappy with it.