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Care of Children Bill introduced to Parliament

Care of Children Bill introduced to Parliament

Legislation to reform guardianship law has been introduced to Parliament, Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel announced today.

"The Care of Children Bill replaces the Guardianship Act 1968 and modernises the framework for resolving ongoing care arrangements for children within families, especially when the relationship between the parents breaks down.

"Family structures and patterns, as well as attitudes towards children have changed significantly over the last 35 years. The Bill ensures a stronger focus on the rights of children and recognises a wider range of family arrangements.

"This Bill will ensure the processes for resolving guardianship issues are inclusive and focused on the welfare and best interests of children. Legislation will become more consistent with the principles underpinning existing child-related legislation and with New Zealand's international obligations.

"A key feature of this Bill is the change in language to signal a shift in emphasis from parental 'rights' to parental 'responsibilities'. Parents will no longer have custody of children; instead they will have the role of providing day-to-day care. We are placing greater emphasis on the ongoing role of parents in a child's upbringing, by making it clear all guardians continue to have status and responsibilities whether or not they are living with a child.

"Parenting orders, which include day-to-day care and contact, will replace custody and access orders. The group of people able to apply for parenting orders will be widened to include members of a child's extended family, whanau or family group. The Family Court will also be able to request reports into a child's cultural background and allow individuals to address the Court on cultural issues.

"Family Courts will have more options to encourage or enforce compliance with parenting orders. The Court will have an express duty to seek early resolution of disputes over parenting orders, with the power to refer parties to counselling. Where counselling fails, a wider range of enforcement measures will encourage compliance, for example requiring someone who has breached a parenting order to enter into a bond as an assurance against breaching the order again.

"The Bill also gives effect to the government's decision announced last year to fund formal supervised contact sessions ordered by the Family Court. Government funding of supervised contact supports a child's right to have contact with both parents and reduces the financial burden on parents who do not have day-to-day care of their children, and supervised contact service providers.

"We are also seeking increased transparency of Family Court proceedings, however, this must be balanced against the need to maintain a forum for frank discussion on personal matters. The Bill permits wider publication of reports about proceedings but only after all identifying information has been removed," Lianne Dalziel said.

This reform process has also provided an opportunity for the government to respond to emerging issues in family law. Last month, Lianne Dalziel announced the government's proposals for legislating assisted human reproductive technologies. The Court will be able enforce to (in certain circumstances) agreements between donors of gametes and parents of a child born using human reproductive technology about contact between the donor and the child.

In 2000 the government released a discussion document and called for public submissions. Nearly 400 submissions were received from a wide group, including judges, parents, academics and community organisations.

The Care of Children Bill will be referred to a select committee for consideration and public submissions.

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