Non-custodial parents have rights too: we overview the key issues – the emotions, the legal and physical practicalities to work through.
Not getting to see your child on a day-to-day basis can be very hard to bear. There is often a tangle of emotions to deal with, plus legal and physical practicalities to work through.
No two situations will be exactly the same, but this article will help you address some of the most common issues.
Parental rights for non-custodial parents
Visitation and Access
No matter what anybody says, children should have the opportunity to spend quality time with both their parents.
Depending on the relationship you have with your ex-partner, this may be an informal flexible arrangement, or one with more structure and legal guidelines in place. Whatever the agreement, spending time with your child is an important part of maintaining a healthy, nurturing relationship.
If your ex-partner is refusing you visitation, making visitation difficult, or you are having difficulties agreeing on what is fair, you can access free counselling services through the Family Court.
These sessions are not designed to rescue your relationship, but more as a mediation process in sorting out details of your visitation and access. Family Court counselling is not means or income tested, and anybody having problems in their relationship can apply. Simply visit your local Family Court, or download a ‘Request for Counselling Form’ from their website www.justice.govt.nz/family .
If you are unable to visit regularly because you are living in another country, in prison, or other practicalities, then keep regular contact through phone calls, letters, emails and videos.
Installing a webcam or getting video calling on your cell phone means you could have face-to-face conversations with your child even if you’re miles away. The benefits of maintaining a positive connection with your child far outweigh the financial cost involved.
Under New Zealand law, custodial parents have the legal right to request Child Support payments from you, and depending on their circumstances, this may be done in a number of different ways.
If your ex-partner is not on a benefit, you can come to a private arrangement as to what you think is fair. Provided you both agree, this does not have to be the amount stipulated by Inland Revenue, and can be paid out in whatever way you choose.
Some people choose to make a lump sum payment at the beginning of the year and avoid ongoing payments, while others choose to make weekly, fortnightly or monthly payments which are reviewed regularly.
Whatever your agreement, it is important to make sure it is in writing, with both parties signatures. Agreements about any extra things you are prepared to pay for should also be included in the document.
If your ex-partner is on a benefit and you have been named as the other parent, then your Child Support payments will automatically be deducted from your wages or salary through Inland Revenue. If you are self employed, your child support payments need to be made to Inland Revenue at the end of the financial year. Your ex-partner will not get your payments directly, rather it is used to offset their benefit payments.
Sometimes non-custodial parents feel frustrated that their child support payments go to the child’s parent rather than the child, particularly if they have concerns about how their ex-partner is raising their child or where they see the money going.
While child support payments are made to support the child, the custodial parent can decide how that money is best spent. The payments do not have to be used on specific child-related costs like clothes and school fees. Basic living expenses like rent, power, food, and petrol are all necessary as well.
If you think your ex-partner is neglecting your child by spending excess money on drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other destructive behaviour, then you should talk to your family lawyer. While you will still be required to pay child support as long as they have custody of your child, there may be reason to question that custody.
To find a family lawyer in your area visit www.familylaw.org.nz and search using your chosen criteria.
If you are not working or are on a low income, you may be eligible for legal aid which will help towards a large portion of your legal costs. To find out more about legal aid, talk to your lawyer’s secretary or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for free information.
Relationship with Your Ex-Partner (Your child’s other parent)
It’s no secret that if you maintain a good relationship with your ex-partner, then everything else gets easier. Sometimes this is easier said than done! Let’s face it, if you could manage to stay friends, you’d probably still be together.
There are several community organisations around that can help you deal with issues surrounding your relationship, and if it’s affecting your child, then there are ways you can get this support for free.
Your first step is to contact your local Family Court, or download a ‘Request for Counselling Form’ from their website www.justice.govt.nz/family. These sessions are not designed to rescue your relationship, but rather get you to a place where you and your ex-partner can communicate effectively.
Now that you know more about the parental rights for non-custodial parents, you should read our Parenting with your ex partner article.