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 The Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki 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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