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Care of Children Act – putting children first

30 July 2005

Care of Children Act – putting children first

From tomorrow (July 1), the voice of children will be louder in the Family Court.

The Care of Children Act 2004 brings in significant new legislation dealing with the Guardianship of children and resolution of disputes about arrangements for looking after the children.

The Act replaces the 1968 Guardianship Act and has been designed to make the law more consistent with modern attitudes to children and to parenting.

“The key message behind the Act is that children come first. The welfare and best interests of children are always the first and most important issues in any dispute about them,” says Courts Minister Rick Barker.

One of the Act’s key objectives, says Mr Barker, is to encourage and help parents to make their own arrangements for the care of their children, rather than the family going through a court hearing experience at all.

The new Act also strengthens the requirement that a child involved in Family Court proceedings should have a reasonable chance to say what they think about what should happen – such as whom they should live with. Under the new Care of Children Act the Judge must take the child’s views into account when making a decision.

"To reflect this change words such as “access” and “custody” are gone. They are replaced by words such as “contact” and “day-to-day care”. The new Act emphasises the “responsibilities” that both parents have towards their children, rather than the “rights” they may have as parents."

"Another important change to the Act is a greater openness of the Family Court. If the parents went to counselling and took someone with them for support - such as a new partner or family member – that person can now be at the Court hearing.

“The Care of Children Act allows greater public access to what goes on in the Family Court but at the same time ensures the Court continues to be a place where parents and guardians can discuss sensitive personal issues in a frank and open way.

" By allowing bona fide media to attend Family Court cases but not publish names to identify individuals, it is possible an independent view of what happened in court can be provided to the public to remove some of the mystery of what happens at hearings," Mr Barker said.

To support the objective of easing the stress of a family break-up, the Ministry of Justice has produced a series of brochures and fact sheets to help parents and children go through the process of separation.

ENDS

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