Guardians & guardianship

A legal guardian is an adult who is responsible for looking after a child. This covers the child's care and upbringing.

Find out more about a guardian’s responsibilities

Who can be a guardian

All mothers and most fathers are automatically guardians of their child at birth. If a couple splits up, they stay guardians of their children and should make guardianship decisions together if possible to guide their child's upbringing and development.

Other adults can be made a child’s guardian by the Family Court. This could be a grandparent or a parent’s new partner.

A child can have more than 1 guardian.

Find out more about who can be a guardian

Types of guardians

Natural guardians

A child’s parents are also known as natural guardians.

Find out more about parents as guardians

Court-appointed guardians

Other people can apply to the Family Court to be a child’s guardian. This includes a grandparent or other relative, or a parent’s new partner.

The Family Court can also appoint a guardian without an application being made. This can happen if:

  • someone is acting as a guardian even though they’re not formally a guardian
  • both parents have died without naming a testamentary guardian
  • neither parent can look after the child for a time.

Testamentary guardians

A parent can name a person in their will (or another formal legal document) to be a testamentary guardian if the parent dies. A testamentary guardian's role is similar to other guardians of the child except they don’t have the right to day-to-day care of the child.

Find out more about testamentary guardians

Guardianship of the court

The High Court or Family Court can sometimes appoint itself as a child’s legal guardian. The court usually appoints Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children to be the guardian as an agent of the court. The people who can ask the court to do this are:

  • the child’s parents or guardians
  • a parent’s partner (if they’ve been helping take care of the child)
  • the child themselves.

Legal help and advice

You might find it useful to talk to a lawyer about guardianship. If you can’t afford a lawyer:

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