This section gives you information on the child-related legal issues people most commonly contact us about
If you want to know about age thresholds - from what age you can leave a child at home unsupervised, to the age at which a child can be charged with committing a crime - this page has the answers. You can also find out how to stop a child being taken from the country or how to seek their return, and where to get advice about the Family Court.
Questions on this page:
- At what age can a child legally do things?
- At what age can a child be charged with committing a crime?
- Can I stop my child being taken out of the country?
- How can I get my child returned to New Zealand from another country?
- Where can I go for advice about the Family Court?
- I can't afford my legal aid bill - what can I do?
- stay home alone - it is an offence to leave a child aged under 14 without reasonable supervision. Generally the law allows parents to leave a young person without supervision from age 14. However, leaving a child unsupervised for an unreasonable period of time in a way that puts them at risk of harm could be considered neglect
- babysit - from age 14 a young person can babysit for younger children but only if they’re capable of providing ‘reasonable supervision and care’
- leave school - at 16 a young person can leave school or be expelled from school
- start work full time - from age 16 a young person can start full-time work and earn minimum wage or the starting out wage - see the NZ at Work webpage for more details
- choose which parent to live with - at age 16 a young person can usually decide which parent to live with if their parents are separated, and decide whether/when to visit the other parent
- choose to leave home - at age 16 a young person can leave home without their parents' consent. But until 18, Oranga Tamariki can send the child home if they believe they're at risk
- get married or enter into a civil union with parents' consent - age 16
- be legally independent of guardianship - age 18.
- A child under the age of 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence.
- A child aged 10 or 11 cannot be prosecuted for a criminal offence, except for the offences of murder and manslaughter.
- A child aged 12 or 13 can be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter and can also be prosecuted for other very serious criminal offences (e.g. robbery with another person. This is called “aggravated robbery”).
- A young person between the ages of 14 and 18 can be brought before the Youth Court on criminal charges. If the charges are very serious they can be transferred to the adult court for trial or sentencing.
- A person who is 18 or older is currently dealt with as an adult in the District Court or the High Court.
For more information see the Community Law Manual
If you think your child is going to be taken out of New Zealand in breach of a parenting order, you can ask the High Court, the District Court or the Family Court to stop them being taken. You can also do this if you've applied for a parenting order or are about to apply for one.
Getting a Court order doesn’t automatically stop your child being taken out of New Zealand - you need to ask for their details to be put on the Customs Service computer system. You can find out more on the Ministry of Justice website.
If your child has been taken from New Zealand, the Hague Convention allows you to:
- ask for them to be returned if they’ve been wrongfully kept in another country, for example at the end of a contact visit
- get help to have contact with them.
You can find out more on the Ministry of Justice website.
The Children’s Commissioner Act says we can’t get involved in any issue that is before a Court. This means if you contact us about an issue with the Family Court, we can only let you know about the other support agencies you can contact. If you need advice on the Family Court, you can talk with your lawyer or the family court co-ordinator, or visit the Family Court website.
Legal aid is government funding to pay for a lawyer for people who cannot afford one, and need one in the interests of justice. People who get legal aid may have to repay part or all of their legal aid costs. Interest will be charged six months after your case has been finalised at the rate of 8%.
You may have to repay some or all of your legal aid, depending on how much you earn, what property you own and whether you receive any money or property as a result of your case.
If you have problems meeting your repayments:
- You can apply under financial hardship grounds to have either the debt written off or the interest written off or both.
- You can apply under just and equitable grounds to have either the debt written off or the interest written off or both.
- However if you own a property that the debt can be secured over it is unlikely this debt will be written off under either financial hardship or just and equitable grounds as there is no immediate need to make repayments. If financial hardship can be shown, interest can be written off and the debt exempted on-going interest in these circumstances.
- Your individual circumstances will be reviewed by a Debt Officer and they will decide whether you meet the criteria for debt write-off or not.
- If you are unhappy with their decision a "Reconsideration" can be applied for and if you are still not satisfied after that, you can seek a review by the Legal Aid Tribunal.
If you are concerned about your legal aid repayments or your legal aid debt, call the Ministry of Justice legal aid Debt Management Group on 0800 600 090.