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Research activities

Current research projects

Relationship Property Division in New Zealand

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA), establishes the rules for how the property of two partners is divided when they separate or when one of them dies. The underpinning principle is that ‘relationship property’, as defined by the Act, should be divided equally between the two partners upon their separation. Despite dramatic demographic and social changes over the past four decades, including the ways in which relationships and families form and function, the PRA has not been comprehensively reviewed since its inception.

During 2016-2019 the Law Commission undertook a project examining New Zealand’s relationship property legislation, to see if it still met the needs of diverse families in contemporary society in terms of determining how property should be divided at the end of a relationship.

To help inform the Law Commission’s work, this two-phase study aims to understand:

  1. Whether the PRA still reflect society’s values and attitudes as to what is fair in the context of relationship separation (Phase 1: 2017-2018).
  2. How separated couples divide their property and resolve any property disputes (Phase 2: 2019-2021).

Phase 1

Phase 1 involved a nationwide survey ascertaining public attitudes and values. Colmar Brunton, a leading market and social research company, was commissioned to administer a nationwide telephone survey designed by the research team to members of the New Zealand public, aged 18 years and over. Between January and March 2018 telephone interviews were undertaken with a representative sample of 1011 people, plus booster interviews with 150 Māori, 100 Pacific and 100 Asian people.

Read the Phase 1 Technical Research Report
Read the Phase 1 Summary Report

Phase 2

Utilising a mixed-methods approach (online survey and interviews), this phase addresses how separated couples in New Zealand are making decisions about their post-separation relationship property division. These results will be reported in 2021.

Research Team

Associate Profesor Nicola Taylor (Children’s Issues Centre, Faculty of Law)
Dr Megan Gollop (Children’s Issues Centre, Faculty of Law)
Professor Mark Henaghan (University of Auckland)
Ian Binnie (Independent Research Consultant, Solasta Consulting)
Dr Jeremy Robertson (Independent Research Consultant, Umbrella)
Nicola Liebergreen (Children’s Issues Centre, Faculty of Law)
Shirley Simmonds (Independent Research Consultant) – Phase One

Advisers

Helen McQueen (Law Commissioner)
Nichola Lambie (Principal Legal and Policy Advisor, Law Commission)

Funder

Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation, $577,225 (November 2017-January 2021)

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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)

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

Funder

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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Beyond Safety: Ethical Practice Involving Children (EPIC)

This research aims to strengthen knowledge, policy and practice concerning ‘child-safe’ organisations by examining the role of ethical practice in improving children and young people’s safety and well-being. Ethical understandings and practice are being explored in three institutional contexts – schools, residential care and disability services.

Little is known about what constitutes ethical practice with children and young people, nor how this contributes to cultural conditions that promote their safety and well-being. This research seeks to address this gap and, in so doing, help efforts at building and sustaining organisational cultures conducive to preventing, detecting and responding to poor treatment of children. The study is distinctive in that it brings together relational ethics, recognition theory, childhood studies and practice architectures to shed further light on the personal, relational, cultural and systemic issues that enhance and diminish the safety and well-being of children and young people.

This mixed methods study involves four phases:
Phase 1: Analysis of key child safety policy and related documents in different international jurisdictions - Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Phase 2: Qualitative fieldwork with children, young people, practitioners and managers across schools, residential care and disability organisation settings, to explore understandings and experiences of child safety and ethical practice.

Phase 3: Quantitative online fieldwork with children and practitioners to test the findings of Phase 2 with a larger sample in a wider range of education, out-of-home care and disability settings, and generate knowledge about any association between ethical practice and children’s sense of safety and well-being.

Phase 4: Professional development and dissemination, using a well-evidenced knowledge exchange framework to guide resource and policy development and support professional learning in a range of settings.

Research Team

Professor Anne Graham (Director, Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University)
Associate Professor Sally Robinson (Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University)
Associate Professor Tim Moore (Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia)
Dr Donnah Anderson (Charles Sturt University)
Associate Professor Nicola Taylor (Children’s Issues Centre, Faculty of Law)
Emeritus Professor Nigel Thomas (Centre for Children and Young People’s Participation, University of Central Lancashire, UK).

Project Officer: Dr Mary Ann Powell (Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University)
Research Assistant: Dr Antonia Canosa (Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University)

Funder

Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (2018-2020)

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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 13 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 and examining relationship property division.

  • 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 – 2014-2020
  • Outcomes for objecting children under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – 2017-2018
  • Relationship property division in New Zealand – 2018-2021

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

2014 - 2018

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2005 - 2013

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) Read the summary report (PDF)
  • 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)