Non-custodial parents definitely have rights too. Find out more about the key issues – the emotions, the legal and physical practicalities to work through. And find out what your rights are when you don’t have custody of you children.

Not getting to see your child on a day-to-day basis can be very hard to bear for many parents. There’s 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

What is a Non-custodial Parent?

Put simply a non-custodial parent is a parent or guardian that doesn’t have day to day care of their children.

Sometimes a non-custodial parent doesn’t have custody of their child or children as the result of a Court Order. And other times it is through a less formal arrangement between the two parents. The parent that has custody and daily care of the children is known as the custodial parent, while you, the other parent, is the non-custodial parent.

In many scenarios it is usually the mother who is the custodial parent. But in other situations it is the father, and sometimes it’s neither parent but instead a guardian.

What is Custody?

Custody is simply the care arrangements you decide for your child or children.

Custody can be an informal arrangement, or it can be a court ordered formal one. The Family Court always tries to get parents or guardians to agree on these arrangements together. If agreement can’t be reached then mediation will take place to try and get some consensus.

The Family Court has this to say about custody:

What you agree will depend on your circumstances. For example, they might spend week-about with each parent, or one parent might be the primary carer while the other parent cares for them in the school holidays.

If only one of you has day-to-day care (full custody), the other parent will have contact. Contact means how and when a child gets to spend time with a parent or other person (guardian) who does not have day-to-day care of them. Contact may be in person or by phone, email, text or letters.

So what does ‘contact’ mean and what rights does the non-custodial parent have?

Visitation and Contact

No matter what anybody says, children should have the opportunity to spend quality time with both their parents. The time spent with children by the non-custodial parent is called contact by the Courts.

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 and contact, 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 .

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.

Child Support

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 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 (the 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 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.

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Sandi Paterson is a freelance journalist based in Tauranga. She lives in a 1950's bach with her daughter, a grumpy cat, and a budgie who sits on her computer when she writes. This article appeared originally in Little Treasures magazine.

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Cappa Patel

Why is it very clear in Australian law, but yet NZ law on child support is very vague If the custdory is a 60/40 split i am already paying a substanial amount, surely im not expected pay more?. acticle from Australian website : Do I also need to pay school fees, uniforms, school excursions, extra-curricular activities if our child support is assessed through the Child Support Agency?Child Support as assessed by the Child Support Agency is designed to cover all aspects of the financial needs of the child/ren. Any school fees, uniforms, school excursions, extra-curricular activities are included in this… Read more »


Hi, I would like to know if after school care payments should be split between the parents evenly or if child support is meant to cover this. Thanks!

Jarrod Rendle

Hi Anna, this one is very much going to depend on the conditions of the parenting agreement or Parenting Order. Child support should cover the reasonable expenses of raising a child, but is also very much dependent on each parent’s earning percentage, and other factors. So this will really be a case by case situation. We can only suggest raising the issue with the other parent if the costs have become difficult to cover, especially with those costs currently increasing. — Kiwi Families


what if my kids’ father that has day to day care of my kids but refuses for them to go to school and finds any way for them not to go? I have still enrolled my 14-year-old, but he keeps taking him to work so it makes it hard for me to even get him to the induction for school. it’s so frustrating as i have been in touch with everyone i can legally including the police and it’s like no one really cares enough to even follow this up as i have asked my kids and no one has… Read more »

Jarrod Rendle

Hi Ana. It is the law in New Zealand for all kids aged under 16 to be enrolled in school, unless they have an exemption. You should definitely get in touch with the Ministry of Education and find out what your rights are here: — Kiwi Families


Hi I would like to know my rights relating to schooling. My ex has convinced my 14 year old that she should leave school and attend an alternative education Programme as soon as she is 15. Of course she is keen on this as she is a lazy learner and does not like authority or rules. I don’t want her pulled from school as this is her one Chance to get a good education and I would rather we focus on getting her to apply herself, Establish a work ethic and extend her capabilities which is all within her ability.… Read more »

Jarrod Rendle

Hi Keith. It is the law in New Zealand for all kids aged under 16 to be enrolled in school, unless they have an exemption. You should definitely get in touch with the Ministry of Education and find out what your rights are here: — Kiwi Families

Susan Clemmings`

Sandi do you think there may be some irony in these comments, with most of them relating to fathers not wanting to pay CS?

Jarrod Rendle

Fortunately child support is becoming more enforceable in New Zealand, and even for parents that have moved overseas, but it continues to be a significant issue for many custodial parents!'t%20pay,a%20warrant%20for%20your%20arrest. — Kiwi Families

Sheree Hubbard

Hi, I would like to know my rights concerning visiting my elderly mother who lives with her husband, also my stepfather. I am an adult & he is making things very difficult for me to visit her at their home. Can he legally stop me from entering the house even though my mother wants me there? This is very distressing for us both. I’d appreciate any advice or information that may help us. Thank you.

Jarrod Rendle

I’m not sure about the legalities here. If the home is your stepfather’s house then possibly he could prevent you access. You should definitely seek professional advice here though. And if you are at all concerned with your Mum’s wellbeing, then seek urgent advice here: — Kiwi Families



I am planning to go overseas to visit family but the father of my child just applied prevention removal from NZ which made me cannot take my child. Knowing this I decide I want to go visit my family by myself but the father of the child refuses to look after my child if I have to go.

What is the obligation of other parents if I have to go

Note : the father just had new contact with my child after 8 years I raised my child by myself

Jarrod Rendle

Yea, that’s a tricky situation Lina. The father does have a right to ensure their child stays in the country. But to then not offer to look after your child while you leave the country is a bit tough. It sounds as if the father believes you to be a flight risk. So perhaps the first course of action here is to build a stronger foundation with your child’s father. The best outcome for your child is where you and the father at least have open communication and some understanding. That can be really hard to build, but it could… Read more »


You can apply to the court for an order to leave. Provided you have a return ticket and are established here they would sign you off to go. Father could object but he’d have to have good reason and being petty just because he can stop you isn’t one of them.


Ok so my dad has full custody of me and has a benefit which gives him money to raise me and my other siblings. Recently I’ve been staying with my mum for a little while but my dad is worried that the money WINZ pays him to support me (which he is using for bills for my other siblings which I don’t mind as I have a part time job) is going to be taken away if I stay with my mum who is a non custodial parent. Is this the case ? Or can I continue living with my… Read more »

Jarrod Rendle

Hi there. In my experience it pays to be totally upfront with Work and Income. If this change does trigger a change in payment, the last thing you want is to leave your Dad with a bill and back-payments to make. If your living situation is temporary, and if your Dad is covering all of your costs still, it may not automatically trigger a change in payment amounts. I’d suggest talking to a case office though, and finding out what the rules are, and how you can make it work for yourself and your siblings: — Jarrod.


Hi really needing some advice. Custody of my step daughter was given to her grandmother when she was 2 years old. She’s now 13 and has lived with me and her father for the last 3 years. Last night my partner and his mother had a argument and shes tried to take the child because she “has custody”. Does my partner as her father and me as her step mother have any rights to stop her from taking her? We’ve had her for 3 years and she was given to us by her grandmother as her forever family when she… Read more »

Jarrod Rendle

Hi there. This is definitely a tricky situation that you should get some expert advice on. I’d suggest applying to the Family Court for a mediation session as quickly as you can. Hopefully there will be an outcome where your step-daughter is well looked after and all parties are happy with the situation. A mediator will definitely help here. Best of luck — Kiwi Families


Hi I have a situation where my ex partner will not see my son without my son being on adhd medication. We took him off it 2 years now and hes better for it because it made him like a zombie. Can he not have him over if we say we don’t have that medication. Please help

Jarrod Rendle

A really tricky situation, and something you’ll need to get specialist medical advice on. Your son’s age and consent will be an important factor here, are they old enough to make their own decisions and have they chosen not to take their medication. Your partner’s visitation rights are also important. They obviously have some reason to want the medication taken (safety, peace of mind, etc). It’s really important for your son to keep them in their life still though, so do try to find a way through. I’d highly recommend the whole family (including any new partners, children etc) go… Read more »


so apparently there is nothing in writing to say what parent i have to stay with, i was wondering if its possible for me to live with my dad without getting custody? also about child support- my mum uses it to buy herself stuff eg clothes, shoes, etc. she never buys me anything and if i want something she will either tell me to buy it myself or to get my dad to buy it for me eg clothes, shoes, ect. what should i do??

Jarrod Rendle

A lot of this will come down to your age and your maturity around decision making. I know that sounds like a bit of ‘grown-up’ talk. But your wellbeing is always the Family Court’s most important decision. And your ability to make good, sound decisions would need to be assessed. Also, both parents obviously need to be on board with a new guardianship arrangement. ‘Custody’ isn’t required here. Your family can just sit down together, and discuss and agree to a new living arrangement. You organising that in an open and positive way would be a sign of that ‘maturity’… Read more »

T sa

My partner has been named the father of a child. And the mother has run away with the child no access given no address etc but is required to pay child-support. How can he be able to make a relationship with this child with no address or contact details

Jarrod Rendle

Another tricky scenario for sure! As the legal parent of the child, your partner now has rights when it comes to the upbringing and wellbeing of the child, including visitation rights. Your partner should consider applying to the courts for a mediation session with a view to a written parenting order. One of the things that can be stipulated in the order is the child’s fixed address, as well as the timing and schedule for visitation or a co-living arrangement. — Kiwi Families


Hey there, my brother and his wife are having issues to the point where she threatened him that if he was to get vaccinated he wouldn’t be able to see his kids. He is currently on the benefit and is living under my other siblings roof due to her kicking him out of the house. Would he be able to apply for 50/50 custody with the chance of being successful? She is also planning to move with the kids down the line as well as only letting him see the kids when she wants. She is involving the kids in… Read more »

Jarrod Rendle

Hi there. Your brother should absolutely seek a mediation session through the Family Courts. A 50/50 custody, where it’s one week on and one week off is a possible scenario. But the right level of custody or visitation will depend on what’s in the best interest of the child. But you brother certainly has rights here, and should seek a written order to have those rights established for all three parties. — Kiwi Families


Hey, I have had full custody of my two kids (12 and 14) and have never lived with their dad. When they were younger he didn’t have much to do with them and moved cities. He has decided he wants to be a dad now and is moving back to be in their lives and is renting a house aiming to take custody. What rights do I have since we have no formal custody agreement?

chrissie mcrobbie

my childrens father has not made contact or even tried to see our children in over a year, he has me blocked on all social medias and also my number. what is considered abandonment or forfeiting of parental rights, he is also a drug and alcohol addict, and there was domestic violence in the relationship

Last edited 2 years ago by chrissie mcrobbie
Coral aitken

I have full custody of my daughter and want to take her away on a holiday for a few days and return home within the country. Do I have to notify and get permission from the non custodial parent who doesn’t see her and cancelled his own visitation to see her. He believes I need his permission to take her out of the city when I go away for a few days. I don’t believe it’s the case as I always have intention of returning. She only goes away to see her family.

Jarrod Rendle

Hi Carol. It’s certainly not about anyone needing to ‘gain permission’, and it’s not about where or for how long the holiday is either. It’s about what is best for the child. And, on the face of it, taking your child to meet their extended family on the holidays would be in their interests. But, if it’s at the expense of spending time with the other parent, it may not be. What you need to do is get this holiday time agreed to, and put into writing, into your Parenting Order. That way everyone is on the same page, your… Read more »

Shane farrelly

If I pay child support do I need to help pay for braces for my daughter especially when I can’t afford to pay for them

Michelle B Mattock


My children doesn’t want to go with their father which they do every weekend. They always say that they scared of him and everytime they do something wrong he belittle them. They won’t allow them to contact me while in his house. They want to stay with me full time, what should i do. They are ages 15, 13 and 11.


Hi if the father of my children move to a different city is it my responsibility to get the children to him for his time with them?


Does my child’s father’s aunty have any rights to my children ?


Hi there, my partner and I want to move to another city for his job. We have a parenting order in place for his son and my partner is the non custodial parent. We would like to take his son with us if his mother will let us otherwise we would like to have him every school holidays and term breaks partner and his ex are not on talking terms and all communication (very little) goes through me. How can we go about this situation? Thanks for your help in advance!


can a godparent apply for custody need some advice


I returned to NZ 3 years ago with my US born child after being granted a 12 month restraining order (with the blessing of the Family Court Judge). We have had no contact with the mother & she has made no effort to regain custody of our child. I wish to obtain legal sole custody of my daughter & change her surname to remove the mothers surname. Can you suggest how I might go about this. It is clear that she has relinquished her parental rights but I want to make it legal.


Hi Sandi, I hv moved overseas since 3 years and my ex had full custody of my 2 boys since 4 years. My relationship with my ex has not been good for years which was one of the reasons for relocating. I pay through IRD Child support, but my ex goes to IRD CS every 18 months or so and claims for back payment through an assessment. I hv never been able to convince IRD that my consent has never been taken for the extra expense she incurs for the boys and I am forced to pay as a lump… Read more »


Hi can the father has a verbal agreement for weekend custdy can he stop the mother an child going away from town for a couple days.


If the father of my child moves away for work and doesn’t see his child for months at a time, what rights do I have over my child? I want full custody but I dunno if I can get that


Hi, the father of my child moves away from work and doesn’t bother coming down to see her for months, I wanna get full custody of her cause of this since she hardly even knows him, can I do that?


Hi Tiffany, you can certainly apply for a Parenting Order to take over full time day-to-day care of your child, if that’s what you’re asking. If you’re asking can you remove the Father as a legal guardian of your child, the answer is no (if the care of the child is at risk, there are orders you can apply for to minimise that risk). It is seldom in the best interests of the child to have either guardian removed from their lives completely. And the Court will always make the child’s rights and interests the main priority in it’s decisions.… Read more »

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My hubby is having trouble getting access to his son due to disagreement around pick up time and travel.

Is it expected that pick up drop offs either be in the middle or they share responsibility of full distance?


Hi Nesha, if the distance is an issue (which it sounds like it could be), it’s the sort of thing that would be fairer to share. You need to get this agreed to, however, and in writing to make it effective. If time and travel distance is really impacting your husband’s access, it does need to be sorted. If the parties can’t agree to a fair outcome, it may need to go to mediation to be formalised in a Parenting Order. — Jarrod


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Hi I want to know what I can do?, i have a 16 month old who is currently living with my ex, I have him 3 hours every day plus weekends when I can, the issue is my ex has a daughter who just turned 19 and has been wanting to take my son out of town to a different city, from day 1 I have said no and so has my ex. Yesterday without my knowledge she took him out of the city, my ex has disregarded my decision and allowed this to happen I’m fuming over this I… Read more »


Hi Tony, you’d need to document your concerns with the situation, and then have those concerns formally included in a Parenting Order to enforce this. If the older daughter is travelling with your child at the request of, or with the approval of, the child’s mother then you would need strong justification for this. You should seek independent legal advice immediately if you have concerns here. — Jarrod

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