Fifty Years of New Zealand Family Law

(2013) 25 NZULR 645-666

22 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2014

See all articles by Bill Atkin

Bill Atkin

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

John Caldwell

University of Canterbury

Mark Henaghan

University of Otago; University of Otago

Pauline Tapp

University of Auckland - Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2013


This collaborative article examines the significant changes to New Zealand family law during the last 50 years. The article canvasses three areas that have seen substantial changes during this time - what constitutes a legal family; changes in the exercise of judicial discretion in family law cases involving children; and the evolution of the financial and property consequences of family breakdown. The article initially focuses on the law's reaction to the changing New 'Zealand family and the important milestones in this legal evolution. This is accompanied by a detailed, historic analysis of the difficulties in deciding what is "best" for children involved in family law disputes and the degree of judicial discretion that should be exercised during this process. The article concludes by chronicling the significant legislative changes since 1963 concerning the financial implications of relationship breakdown and how this affects the children involved. This article illustrates how far New Zealand has come in the last 50 years regarding the increased legal recognition and protection of a wide variety of familial relationships. However, it argues that the recent debates surrounding adoption and marriage equality indicate that there is still a way to go before the law treats all New Zealand families equally.

Keywords: Family Law, Judicial Review, Judicial Discretion, Paramountcy Principle, Civil Union, De Facto Relationship, No Fault, Surrogacy

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Atkin, Bill and Caldwell, John and Henaghan, Mark and Tapp, Pauline, Fifty Years of New Zealand Family Law (2013). (2013) 25 NZULR 645-666, Available at SSRN:

Bill Atkin (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

John Caldwell

University of Canterbury ( email )

Ilam Road
Christchurch 8140
New Zealand

Mark Henaghan

University of Otago ( email )

Faculty of Law
P.O. Box 56
Dunedin, 9054
New Zealand
64 3 479 5324 (Phone)
64 3 479 8855 (Fax)


University of Otago ( email )

PO Box 56
Dunedin North
Dunedin, 9016
New Zealand
6434798854 (Phone)
644798855 (Fax)


Pauline Tapp

University of Auckland - Faculty of Law ( email )

Private Bag 92019
Auckland Mail Centre
Auckland, 1142
New Zealand

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