The Law & Your Rights

(The following information has been adapted from the Ministry of Justice, The Family Court, "Domestic Violence; information on Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Act" booklet. Free resources are available at your local Family Court.)

The Domestic Violence Act 1995:

The Domestic Violence Act came into effect in Aotearoa New Zealand in 1995.

The Domestic Violence Act was made to protect people in many different relationships, including:

  • Married couples
  • Unmarried couples
  • Gay and lesbian couples
  • Children
  • Family/whanau
  • Anyone in a close personal relationship
  • Flatmates or other people who share accommodation.

The Justice Department of Aotearoa New Zealand describes domestic violence as "An abuse of Human Rights". They go on to describe what domestic violence is as:

Physical Abuse:

Nobody – including a husband, wife, partner or an adult who looks after children, is allowed to hit, punch, kick or in any way assault another person.

Sexual Abuse:

Nobody is allowed to have any sexual contact with another person without that person's permission.

Psychological Abuse:

Includes intimidation, threats and harassment. Examples of psychological abuse are damaging property, allowing children to see or hear any domestic violence, controlling someone's contact with friends as a way of having power over him or her.

At the heart of the Domestic Violence Act is the Protection Order.

Protection Orders:

What is a protection order?

The Family Court can issue a Protection Order if it is satisfied that domestic violence has occurred and the Protection Order is needed to protect you, (the Applicant), and other persons for whom protection is sought, (such as children).

A Protection Order automatically covers any child under the age of 17 years who usually lives in your house.

The person the application is being made against is called the "Respondent". You can also have the Protection Order made against a third person, an "Associated Respondent", (e.g. a friend or family member of the person who has abused you), if you are at risk of violence from them because the Respondent has encouraged them to be violent toward you also.

You can ask for the Protection Order to cover other persons, like your friends, a new partner or anyone who may be at risk from the Respondent or Associated Respondent because of their relationship with you.

Children can apply for their own Protection Orders with the support of an adult (e.g. social worker, guidance counselor, family member.) However they do not need to apply for one if they are covered by an adult in the same household's Protection Order.

- for help filling out a Protection Order see the Ministry of Justice website

How does a Protection Order Work?

Whether you want to have no contact at all with the Respondent, or if you want to continue living with the Respondent, you can still have a Protection Order. In order to cover both these situations Protection Orders have two types of "conditions" or rules associated with them.

Non-Violence Conditions:

- These apply in every case, whether you are together or living apart.

The Respondent must not:

  • Physically, psychologically, or sexually abuse or threaten anyone protected by the Protection Order.
  • Damage or threaten to damage the protected person's property
  • Encourage anyone else to physically, sexually, or psychologically abuse or threaten anyone protected by the Protection Order.

Non-Contact Conditions

- These apply when you are living apart.

The non-contact conditions say that the Respondent must not:

  • Go to your home or workplace or onto your property (unless you expressly consent).
  • Intimidate or harass you or any children living or staying with you.
  • Hang around your neighbourhood or workplace.
  • Follow you.
  • Try to stop you or any children living or staying with you from coming or going.
  • Phone, fax, write, email, text or in any way contact you.

If you want to have contact with the respondent e.g. you may want to continue living together, you can suspend the non-contact conditions, so they don't apply. However you can decide you do not want contact anymore and withdraw you consent of this contact, and immediately the non-contact conditions come into effect. You do not have to go to court to change this.

The non-violence conditions apply whether or not you are living together.

If you have a Protection Order, you have specific protection from any physical, sexual or psychological abuse (including threats and harassment). The police policy is to arrest a person who breaches (doesn't stick to the conditions) a Protection Order. The person will be dealt with in the Criminal Court.

In most cases the Respondent will be required to attend a Family Court approved stopping violence programme, such as the ones provided by Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga/ The National Network of Stopping Violence Services' member agencies throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. (See "Organisation Details"). These are usually group programmes, but individual programmes are also available when needed. It is a breach of the Protection Order if the Respondent does not attend, unless they are excused by the programme provider.

The maximum penalty for breach of Protection Order is six months in prison or a $5000 fine. The penalty increases to two years in prison where a person is convicted of three offences and two of these are committed within a three year period. If other serious crimes are involved, (such as assaulting you), the penalties could be more severe.

Free, court approved programmes are also available for the person who has taken the protection order out (the applicant) and their children.

The programme is optional and it is different from the stopping violence programme the respondent has to go on.

The programme for applicants and children provides information, education and support, it is free confidential and safe.

Applicants can apply to attend a programme up to three years after the Protection Order is granted.

Most programmes are open to referrals from people who have or are experiencing violence, whether they have a Protection Order of not, at little or no cost.

How Do I Apply for a Protection Order?

It is good if you can to use the services of a lawyer. (For lists of lawyers familiar with family law contact your local Women's Refuge, Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga/ National Network of Stopping Violence agency, Citizen's Advice Bureau, Victim Support Services or Community Law Centre. If you are worried about the costs of using a lawyer, you may be entitled to legal aid, if you are on a low income. (Your lawyer can help you apply for this). If you do not qualify for legal aid, and do not want to use a lawyer, you can still fill out the forms (which you can get from your Family Court), yourself. A support person from your local Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga/ National Network of Stopping Violence Services, Women's Refuge or Victim Support may be able to help you. Family Court staff can also give you information on this, but cannot give you legal advice. It may also be that you local Community Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau has the services of a free lawyer that you can access.

  1. You need to fill in the application form, (with the help of you lawyer if applicable). Your lawyer will also write down evidence about why you need a Protection Order in a sworn statement (affidavit). If the Respondent has access to any weapons you must tell your lawyer, or the Police or Family Court.
  2. These are seen by a Family Court Judge (usually on the same day).
  3. In the case of an emergency or where there is urgency Temporary Protection Orders are made immediately and "without notice". That means that the Respondent isn't aware of them being made until he is served with them. (Make sure you are in a safe place at this time, contact Women's Refuge if needed.)
  4. In other circumstances the judge may direct that the application will be heard "on notice", which means that both parties will have the opportunity to be heard by the Court. If this is the case the judge will normally give the Respondent a short period of time to file a written defence. If the Respondent does file a defence the Court then will hear each side and make a decision. This is done in the Family Court, which is a "closed court". That means there is no one there except the court officials and those supporting you.

- for help with a Protection Order see -

How Does the Respondent (the person the order is against) Find Out About the Protection Order?

Once a Temporary Protection Order is granted, things happen quickly.

The orders are usually typed up at the Court and copies made. Your lawyer will be sent a copy, or you can pick up a copy from the Family Court.

An agent of the Court (usually a bailiff, sometimes with the Police), will visit the Respondent and give them a copy of the Protection Order. They will explain what the order means and what will happen if the Respondent disobeys the order.

Another copy will be sent to the Police Station nearest you, so the Police are aware of the order.

If the Respondent disobeys the conditions on the Protection Order contact the Police immediately.


When a Temporary Protection Order is made, the Respondent must hand in any firearms within 24 hours (or earlier if they tell you to). Their firearms licence will be suspended. If the order is made final, the Respondent's firearms licence will automatically be revoked.

When does a Temporary Protection Order become a Final Protection Order?

The law requires that people are given the opportunity to defend themselves. The Respondent is given up to three months to defend the Protection Order. If the Respondent does not do it within this time then the Order automatically becomes final, which means it will stay in force permanently or until the Order is discharged. (You can apply to the Court any time to have the order discharged; however the Judge will need to be convinced that you are no longer in danger.)

If the Respondent does defend the Order a hearing date is set by the Family Court where the Court will consider both sides of the story and make a final decision.

Occupation and Tenancy orders

You may need to apply for an Occupation or Tenancy Order, to enable you to stay living in the same house. Talk to your lawyer or Family Court staff about this.

Furniture Order

You may also want to apply for a furniture order to enable you to set up house in a new location. The Police can be asked to accompany you to collect the furniture if needed for your protection. Talk to your lawyer or Family Court staff.

Custody of Children

By law both parents can apply for custody of the children, however if there is a risk that one parent could take the children away or harm them, the other parent can ask the Court for sole custody. This requires a separate application to Family Court. Talk to your lawyer about this.

When there is proven violence, the Court will usually not allow the violent person to have custody unless the Court is satisfied the children will be safe.

Access Arrangements

When there is proven violence, the Court will usually not allow the violent person to have unsupervised access to children, unless the Court is satisfied the children will be safe. Supervised access can be provided by a number of community agencies and also may be able to take place with a friend or relative that is deemed safe and appropriate. Any costs of providing supervised access are to be paid by the person seeking access.

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