Tamariki Māori And The Family Court: How Cultural Evidence Can Help Whānau Māori

May 31, 2022

Parenting proceedings in the Family Court are difficult at the best of times, families resort to seeking the intervention of the Court because interpersonal relations have completely broken down.

Where those families identify with another (non-New Zealand Pakeha) culture, navigating the family Court system is challenging.  This is particularly so for whānau Māori, who are overrepresented in statistics for government assistance and intervention.  State care survivers in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Abuse in State Care have spoken of the trauma losing one’s cultural identity has caused.

While the paramount consideration for the Court in proceedings under the Care of Children Act 2004 is the welfare and best interests of the child, section 5 sets out the principles that apply when making this determination.

Care of Children Act 2004 Section 5 Principles

  • a child’s safety must be protected and, in particular, a child must be protected from all forms of violence from all persons, including members of the child’s family, family group, whānau, hapū, and iwi:
  • a child’s care, development, and upbringing should be primarily the responsibility of his or her parents and guardians:
  • a child’s care, development, and upbringing should be facilitated by ongoing consultation and co-operation between his or her parents, guardians, and any other person having a role in his or her care under a parenting or guardianship order:
  • a child should have continuity in his or her care, development, and upbringing:
  • a child should continue to have a relationship with both of his or her parents, and that a child’s relationship with his or her family group, whānau, hapū, or iwi should be preserved and strengthened:
  • a child’s identity (including, without limitation, his or her culture, language, and religious denomination and practice) should be preserved and strengthened.

Care of Children Act 2004 Principle 5(f): Preservation And Strengthening Of A Child’s Identity And Culture

The movement towards the Court understanding a child’s taha Māori (Māori identity) is enshrined in legislative amendments that require the Court to take a cultural background into account when determining their care arrangements.

Evidence about a child’s cultural background

Under the Act, the Court may request a written cultural report on any child in proceedings before it if the Court is satisfied the report is necessary for the proper disposition of the application.  This report, which is pursuant to s 133, may address any aspect or aspects of the child’s cultural background.

For tamariki Māori, a cultural report can assist the Court in understanding more about how a child can remain connected to their taha Māori, encouraging expert evidence on the importance of cultural identity and competency, and how this can be fostered.  While still an under-utilised tool, the movement towards a greater number of Māori culture experts is paving the way for a greater appreciation of these important concepts by the adults surrounding the child in question.

Alternative Options For Evidence

Another option available is in s136 of the Care of Children Act 2004, which allows a party to, before a date is set for a hearing, ask the Court to hear a person to speak on

  • the child’s cultural background; and
  • any aspects of the particular child’s cultural background that may be relevant to a matter in issue in the proceedings.

Importantly, s136(3) provides that the Court may suggest to a party that it may be of assistance to the Court to hear a person on these matters.

This evidence can be a crucial tool to better understanding the principle that a child’s identity should be preserved and strengthened. While not often utilised in the Courts, it is encouraging for whānau to know that there is a mechanism available that allows the Court to hear relevant cultural evidence so that it has the best, most robust evidence before it in determining what arrangements under the Act are in a child’s best interests.

Are you looking to file cultural evidence in your Family Court proceedings?

If you are navigating the Family Court system and are looking to present cultural evidence, we suggest that you speak to one of our family Lawyers, who will guide you through the process and what information will assist the Court in making its determination.

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Family Law

We assist with any aspects relating to children, including childcare and parenting arrangements, relocation, guardianship, and adoption. We advise on child support, care of children, Oranga Tamariki, and provide support with Family Dispute Resolution. We also assist in domestic violence cases and can help you obtain protection orders to protect you and your children.

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about the author

Amy Chesnutt


Amy has extensive litigation experience, representing clients in the Family, District and High Courts District of New Zealand and the Magistrates Court, District of Queensland, Federal Circuit Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia.

about the author

Alisha Castle


Alisha has appeared in the Family Court, the Māori Land Court, the Māori Appellate Court, the High Court and in various inquiries before the Waitangi Tribunal for a number of Treaty of Waitangi claimants.

About the author

Mihikeita Tibble


Mihikeita is a third-year law student. Before studying law, Mihikeita was a Customs Officer for eight years. It is here where she gained many skills, such as report writing, risk management, work ethic, communication, and conflict resolution skills.


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