When it comes to children and parenting in relationship breakdowns, parents will negotiate or even commence proceedings to reach a consensus about the new family structure and how time with the children is to be divided.
However, this often leaves grandparents in a position of uncertainty as to whether they will be ‘permitted’ to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren.
Sadly, the practical result in many cases is that grandparents are left feeling like their time with their grandchildren is at the whim of their estranged son-in-law or daughter-in-law, with time often reduced to birthday parties or school events.
However, there are legal mechanisms that provide for the rights of grandparents in certain circumstances. The Family Law Act states that, as an underlying principle, it is in the child’s best interest to have a “right to spend time on a regular basis with, and communicate on a regular basis with, both their parents and other people significant to their care, welfare and development such as grandparents”.
The law recognises the importance of maintaining grandparent relationships, so much so that grandparents are specifically named as having the right to apply to the Court for an Order to spend time with their grandchildren. However, it is important to note that applying to the Court is not the only avenue for grandparents.
Other steps include starting a dialogue with the parents, arranging mediation to discuss issues, entering into a parenting plan that expressly outlines a grandparent’s time with their grandchildren, or entering into Consent Orders (agreements sealed by the Court).
When the household in which a child lives in is dangerous or the child is at risk of neglect, abuse or violence, then grandparents have the right to step in to apply to the Court for custody.
Every family and situation is different, however, and what works for one family may not work for another. In this sense, it is always important to seek specialised legal advice to ensure a tailor-made approach for the best outcomes for children.
If you have any questions, please contact our office on 8858 3211.
Eleni Tsoromokos is a Junior Lawyer under the supervision of Katherine Hawes, the Principal Solicitor of Digital Age Lawyers.