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Review of guardianship and family policy

The Guardianship Act, including related family policy, is to be reviewed by the Government, Attorney-General Margaret Wilson and Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey announced today.

New Zealand's guardianship law was passed over 30 years ago and is worthy of review. The Ministers said that the review was part of the Government's overall child and family policy. A discussion paper will be issued mid-year inviting public responses, which will close in early November.

The Government also confirmed that it would not be supporting Act MP Muriel Newman's Shared Parenting Bill because it deviated from the principle of the best interests of the child as paramount.

"The Government firmly believes that any laws in this area must have the child's interests as the primary focus.

"The Government supports the stated purpose behind Dr Newman's bill to improve the welfare of children. We do not believe that it will achieve this because it replaces the best interests of the child with a presumption in favour of joint custody.

"I am also aware of some issues relating to the procedures available in the Family Court for resolving custody and access disputes which will be addressed by the discussion paper", Margaret Wilson said.

Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey said the current Guardianship Act is out of date and public discussion is needed on the changes needed to it.

"The new Government is committed to promoting positive parenting and to law reform if it can be shown that the options no longer reflect modern realities.

"Terms of reference for the review are being drawn up at present. Issues that review will consider include, but will not be limited to:

 The rights of the child. The Guardianship Act specifies that the welfare of the child must be ‘first and paramount’. The discussion paper needs to canvass whether the detail of the act is consistent with this principle.

 Diversity of the family. Families are now diverse in nature. There is, however, little recognition in the current Act of the diverse forms of families, or of the role played by wider family members in the lives of children. This issue is of particular importance to Mäori and Pacific cultural values and approaches, and may impact on the rights and interests of Mäori and Pacific children.

 The labels in the act for different forms of parental responsibility – "custody", access", etc, imply control of children rather than nurturing of them", Steve Maharey said.

ends

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