The Wonderful World Of Grandparents
As a young boy growing up in a house with a failing marriage, I fondly remember how there was always one true anchor of support, love and encouragement in my life, my beloved grandma. Renowned author Alex Haley aptly describes the role of grandparents:
“ Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do.
Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”
What are your rights?
And yet there are times when grandparents want to be involved in the lives of their grandkids, but feel shut out. What rights do these ‘stardust sprinklers’ have to be involved in a child’s life, when things go pear shaped?
If you’re a grandparent you need to understand that under the Family Law Act (FLA), you are indeed appreciated and considered when it comes to working out what is in the best interests of your grandchildren. The FLA is the law that in part looks at who children live and spend time with when mums and dads separate, regardless of whether they were married or not.
But even when parents are still together, the FLA acknowledges that a child’s relationship with his or her grandparents is important. Section 60CC of the FLA looks at how the court determines what is in ‘the best interests of a child’ and notes that one of the additional considerations in working this out is a child’s relationship with their grandparents (and indeed any other relative like an uncle or aunt), and the capacity of a grandparent (or other relative) to provide for the needs of that child, including emotional and intellectual needs. The FLA also considers the likely effects on a child of any separation from a grandparent or other relative where the child has previously been living with the grandparents or other relatives. This is regardless of whether it was occasional or full time.
So the short of it is that grandparents do have a right to go to the court and apply for orders that their grandkids live with or spend time with them.
But before you think that sounds easy… it isn’t that simple!
You see as wonderful as they are, Grandparents don’t have an automatic right to have a relationship with their grandkids. But that doesn’t stop a grandparent or relative from applying to the Court for “Parenting Orders”.
A parenting order is simply an order given by the Judge that you can spend time with or communicate with the child. It doesn’t mean you become a ‘parent’.
However, the Court will look at all the evidence a grandparent and an opposing parent present and then decide what will happen, primarily on what is in the child’s best interests. The court process can be very time consuming and often leaves all parties exhausted stressed and hard done by.
Is there a better way to approach this than by going to the court?
And the answer is yes, because in almost all cases, where there is squabbling over the kids (or in our case grandkids), there is a mandatory requirement that parties get together and attend mediation to work out their differences and hopefully come up with a solution on how time could be spent with the kids.
This mediation would normally be done with the help of an organisation like Relationships Australia.
It’s only when this fails and you receive what is called a “60I certificate” that you can then proceed to apply to the court for orders to spend time with the kids. It’s important to get some legal advice before taking legal action, including advice about how strong your case is; what forms and documents to support your case (affidavits) you will need to lodge with the Court; what orders you should ask for; which Court you should start the case in (Family Court or Federal Circuit Court).
The best place to start is with a free Community Legal Centre who can give you some guidance, but won’t be able to represent you. Remember the court process is not for the faint hearted so “D.I.Y.ing” this will require much thought, preparation, stamina and patience.
Alternatively, you could engage a family lawyer to streamline the whole process and take some of the stress away. If the case goes to Court the Judge can require the parties to continue to try to resolve the dispute themselves. So all the more reason to try to nut out an agreement through mediation before you go to court.
In some cases, the Court can order that an independent children’s lawyer be appointed to represent the child’s interests. That lawyer’s role is to form an independent view of what is in the child’s best interests and make the Court aware of those interests. The Court can also order a Family Consultant (normally a counsellor, social worker or psychologist) to interview and observe the parties and the child and prepare a Family Report for the Court. So court can be a complex process and I always suggest you keep exploring the pre-court mediation route, even if you fail to come up with an agreement the first time.
That shouldn’t be too hard, after all, grandparents are renowned for their marvellous patience!
And on that note, let me leave you with an old Chinese proverb:
∞ The old are the precious gem in the centre of the household ∞
Support for grandparent carers – Australia-wide services
If you are presently caring for a grandkid and have concerns about your role now or in the future you can use the following:
♥ Department of Human Services – Support for non-parent carers webpage to find out about the government payments and benefits you can get when you’re a full-time kinship or grandparent carer.
♥ Family Relationships Online – For Grandparents – this webpage has links to information and services that may be able to help you in your role as a grandparent carer.
♥ MyTime for Grandparents – a national network of support groups for grandparents who are full-time carers of grandchildren aged up to 18 years.
♥ The Raising Children Network – Services for grandparents and kinship carers webpage provides information about services and support for grandparents and kinship carers
General Support for grandparents
We have 5 organisations here and I’m sure if you get in contact with any of them, they will be able to offer you support, guidance and even referral to a service that may more suit your needs.
And a great WA organisation is “Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren” – check their details online.
Info updated as of May 2020