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Research activities

Current research projects

Parenting Arrangements after Separation Study (PASS): Evaluating the 2014 New Zealand Family Law Reforms

The purpose of this research is to evaluate the 2014 New Zealand family law reforms that were introduced on March 31, 2014. These reforms are intended to better support separated parents to resolve parenting disputes through out-of-court family dispute resolution processes, rather than via lawyers and the Family Court. The 2014 reforms largely focus on Care of Children Act 2004 matters, which include issues relating to children’s post-separation care arrangements such as day-to-day care and contact.

The study is being conducted in two Phases.

Phase One

This preparatory phase involved the initial scoping, consultation and planning for an evaluative research strategy and consisted of the following components:

  • An annotated bibliography of domestic and international research literature pertaining to New Zealand family law research and family law evaluation research;
  • Ascertaining the existence of baseline data in New Zealand (collected prior to the March 2014 reforms) and its usefulness in enabling pre- and post-reform comparisons;
  • Consultation and liaison with key New Zealand stakeholders;
  • Consultation with international experts and key researchers in family law reform evaluation;
  • Holding a workshop with stakeholder representatives to report back on the above activities and the themes that emerged from the consultation process and to gauge sector/stakeholder interest in, and commitment to, an evaluation proposal.

Read the Phase One report (PDF, 2.5MB)

Phase Two

This involves a large-scale nationwide mixed-methods research project exploring parents’ and professionals’ perceptions and experiences of post-separation family dispute resolution processes regarding decisions about children’s care arrangements post-31 March 2014. Data will be collected via online surveys and face-to-face and telephone interviews with parents/caregivers, family justice professionals and practitioners, and key stakeholders.

Law Foundation logoThe study aims to determine how the new family justice system is working for parents and professionals as well as to better understand the various dispute resolution pathways parents take to make post-separation parenting arrangements.

Go to the study website

Principal Investigators


New Zealand Law Foundation, $57,000 (2014); $400,000 (2016-2019)

Read an article about the study in He Kitenga: 2016 University of Otago Research Highlights

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Outcomes for Objecting Children under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides for co-operation between its 95 signatory States to ensure that a child abducted from their State of habitual residence in breach of rights of custody is returned forthwith.

The Convention offers no guidance on how Courts should ‘find’ a child’s objection to being returned and no research has previously been conducted specifically on the child objection defence. Furthermore, little evidence currently exists regarding the longer-term impact on such children when they are ordered by the Court to either return or not return.

The issue of objecting children particularly vexes the family justice sector internationally as an order for return to a State of habitual residence in such circumstances disregards the child’s expressed objection. It also stands in sharp contrast to contemporary understandings of children as competent social actors whose views should ideally be respected in decision-making processes.

This cross-jurisdictional small-scale mixed methods study aims to investigate the tensions and challenges inherent in the use of the child objection defence, as well as the lived experiences of those at the interface of its application. It will inform the future direction of the Convention’s policy and practice.

This study will be undertaken in two jurisdictions (England/Wales and New Zealand) to investigate the welfare outcomes for abducted children following return, or non-return, subsequent to their objections being raised in Convention proceedings and will involve:

  • a literature review on the child objection defence;
  • a case analysis of reported judgments involving this defence from its introduction in England/Wales (1985) and New Zealand (1991) through to 2017;
  • an online survey for family justice professionals in England/Wales and NZ, the 95 Central Authorities, the Hague Network of Judges, CAFCASS, NGOs, and specialist abduction researchers globally;
  • interviews in England/Wales and NZ with a subsample of the family justice professionals who responded to the online survey and children who objected to return during their Hague Convention proceedings and, where appropriate, their parents.

The project will primarily provide data regarding the child objection defence in England/Wales and NZ, but will also be relevant globally. Preliminary findings and recommendations will be disseminated at three seminars in London, Genoa and Auckland in March 2018 where the project’s expansion to other interested jurisdictions will also be explored.

Research Team


British Academy, London £47,000 (March 2017–March 2018)

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Socio-legal research programme

The Children’s Issues Centre has had a programme of socio-legal research since 1996. This research programme was designed to explore the experiences of children and young people using a child’s rights approach and the theoretical framework offered by Childhood Studies that constructs children as active, competent participants rather than the passive recipients of family transitions and family law processes.

The major emphasis of this research has been to highlight the visibility and voices of children and young people, to identify the experiences and challenges families/whānau face during family law disputes between their parents over children's care, and to document the factors that help them cope during these difficult times.

An important component of the socio-legal programme also involves ascertaining the perspectives of parents/caregivers and professionals such as lawyers, judges, psychologists, social workers, mediators, counsellors and social service agency staff.

Much of the research in the parental separation/divorce field focuses on the risks to children and the detrimental impact of family transitions on their lives. Our research has taken a more strengths-based approach to identify factors that promote the rights, well-being, welfare and best interests of children. Our findings over the past 20 years have contributed to more child-friendly and child-inclusive legal provisions, policies and professional practices to support children and parents facing family transitions.

Previous studies in family justice contexts

To date, we have conducted 11 studies that address the perspectives of children and young people, their parents/caregivers and professionals in family justice contexts such as separation and divorce, care and protection, out-of-home care, supervised contact and relocation. We are currently conducting a major evaluation of the New Zealand 2014 family justice reforms.

  • Access and post-separation issues – 1996-1997
  • Children in kinship and foster care – 1997
  • Access arrangements following parental separation – 1997-1998
  • The role of Counsel for the Child – 1998
  • Children’s rights in NZ family law judgments – 1999
  • Dispute resolution in the Family Court – 2000-2003
  • Supervised contact centres – 2005
  • Children’s participation in family law proceedings internationally – 2006-2007
  • Relocation following parental separation – 2007-2009
  • Family Court judges’ meetings with children – 2012
  • Evaluation of the 2014 family law reforms – 2014-2019

Principal Investigators

We also wish to acknowledge the contribution of the late Emeritus Professor Anne B. Smith to the Centre’s socio-legal research programme.

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Previous research projects

2005 - 2012

2000 - 2004

  • The Effect of Adult Playcentre Participation on the Creation of Social Capital in Local Communities (2004)
  • Children and Young People’s Perspectives on Citizenship (2004)
  • Under Three-year-olds in Kindergarten: Children’s Experiences and Teachers' Practices (2004-2006)
  • Learning Dispositions and Social Context (2005-2007)
  • Youth at Risk (2004)
  • Children’s Rights Component of the NZ Action Plan for Human Rights (2003-2004)
  • The Discipline and Guidance of Children: A Literature Review (2003-2004) Read the full report (PDF, 2.3 MB) Read the summary report (PDF, 591KB)
  • Disability and Identity (2003-3006)
  • Young Carers (2003)
  • Truancy Review (2002)
  • Best Evidence Synthesis on Influences of Initial Teacher Education on Quality Processes and Outcomes in Early Childhood Education (2002)
  • Parental Perceptions and Media Representations of Young People in Dunedin and Alexandra (2001-2002)
  • Leadership in Early Childhood Education: National and International Reflections (2001)
  • Family Resilience and Early Childhood Centres (2001)
  • Evaluation of Early Childhood Professional Development Programmes (2001)
  • Young Children’s Television (2001)
  • Childhood and Family Law (2001-2002)
  • Dispute Resolution in the Family Court (2000-2003)
  • Children’s Learning, Family Processes and Participation in Society (2000–2002)
  • Constructions of Children’s Participation, Health, Safety and Recreational Rights at School (1999-2002)

1996 - 1999

  • Early Childhood Literature Review (1999)
  • How Children’s Views are Ascertained and Taken into Account in Family Law Proceedings (1998-1999)
  • Children’s and Lawyers’ Perspectives on the Role of Counsel for Child (1998)
  • Children Living Away from Their Parents (1997)
  • Access Arrangements after Separation or Divorce (1996-1997)
  • An Evaluation of the Targeted Individual Entitlement Scheme (1996)