What to expect at Family Court

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The Family Court is less formal than other courts. Sometimes the court room is set up differently so people can talk more freely.

Help to understand Family Court & what you need to do

If you think you need help court staff can tell you what to do, including which form you’ll need, and explain court processes. They can’t tell you what to say on your forms and they can’t give you legal advice.

If you have a specific question about your case you can contact the case officer at the court. Their name and contact details will be on any letters you’ve received about your case. You’ll need to tell them your case number when you talk to them. This will be on all your letters.

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Who can come to a Family Court hearing

Unlike other courts the public isn’t allowed to attend a Family Court hearing. The only people who can be there are people who work at the court, the lawyers and other support people.

Journalists can attend some hearings. But they can't publish any names or details that might identify anyone involved in the case unless a judge says they can.

Support in the court room

You can bring a support person to wait with you at the court but you will need to ask the judge's permission to take them into the court room.

If your case is under the Care of Children Act and a support person came with you to counselling or mediation, they have the right to attend the court hearing.

Children in the court room

Children do not attend court. It’s a good idea to find someone to care for your children while you’re at court as courts don’t have child care facilities.

What happens in the court room

If you have a lawyer, they’ll explain what will happen in the court room. They’ll talk on your behalf in the court room. If you have any questions or want the judge to know something you should tell your lawyer before the hearing or during a break. If you’re required to represent yourself you’ll be speaking directly to the judge.

Find out more about what to expect at court

Read our going to court section to find out more about how you can:

  • get an interpreter in court if you need one
  • speak Māori or New Zealand Sign Language in court
  • make sure you fill in the court forms correctly.

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Special roles in the Family Court

You might hear about these special roles at the Family Court:

Lawyer for the child

The lawyer for the child is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the child in any proceedings. These lawyers are chosen because of their experience in working with children. They must have a minimum of 5 years practice in the Family Court. You may have to help pay for the lawyer for the child. If you do - you will get information about this once your case is finished.

Specialist writers

If a judge wants to understand your case better they can ask an expert to write a specialist report:

  • a cultural report looks at issues such as ethnicity, language and religion
  • a medical report might be asked for if the parents of a child with a serious medical condition disagree about medical treatment
  • a psychiatric report may be needed if a child has or may have a mental illness
  • a psychological report could look into what may have influenced a child’s views.

You may have to help pay for the report. If you do – you will get information about this once your case is finished.

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