Grandparents’ legal rights


You’ll know it from first-hand experience: grandparents are an important part of their grandchildren’s lives. 

Many, if not most, grandparents have a satisfying and mutually beneficial relationship with their children. Many informal or formal arrangements see grandparents offering free childcare, support and sometimes financial help. 

Unfortunately, not all arrangements go smoothly. Around 4,000 New Zealand children are living with their grandparents, with parental drug and alcohol abuse being the most common cause. More informal arrangements often see kids spending all or a large part of their time in the care of their grandparents. In these situations, the ‘de facto’ parenting role may not be legally recognised, which can cause a whole raft of practical issues. For example, grandparents caring for a grandchild full time, but under an informal arrangement, may suddenly find that they cannot access a child’s medical or education records. gavel

What does the law say? 

The legislation is unclear when it comes to the legal rights grandparents have to their grandkids, but there are ways to get recognition and help.

  • If you’re concerned for the welfare of a grandchild or have contact withheld – you can apply for a parenting or guardianship order, under the Care of Children Act 2004. This considers links with wider whanau/family and continuity of arrangements are in the child’s best interest. If you’re being prevented from seeing your grandkids, you could argue that this isn’t in the children’s best interest. If you’re worried about their welfare in other ways, this parenting order may see you appointed as an additional guardian. Going to court should be a last resort – often family mediation is far more effective and less disruptive long-term. The Family Court may even offer counselling to solve the stand-off.
  • If your grandkids are being abused or neglected – under the Tamariki Ora Act 1989 any allegations of abuse or neglect must go first to a family group conference (FGC). Grandparents, along with other family members, are entitled to attend an FGC and to have their say. Grandparents might end up as carers at this point or after a court order. If the child is placed under the guardianship of the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry might entrust the child’s daily care to a grandparent – but the child is still legally under the guardianship of the Ministry. Usually, these arrangements are properly recorded, have legal force, and the Ministry may provide financial and other support. They are also regularly reviewed.

Care and protection of little ones

It can be absolutely heart-wrenching for grandparents to become involved in a bitter court action against their own child – but most grandparents are willing to do anything to protect their beloved little ones. Fortunately for New Zealand grandchildren, their grandparents will often step up in times of trouble, and the Family Court will usually listen to concerned grandparents. 

Disclaimer: This article is of a general nature only and isn’t a substitute for personalised legal advice.