What is the significance of grandparent rights in a child’s life?
Grandparents often play an essential role in children’s lives. They can provide daycare, shoulder certain expenses, and offer familial love and support. When parents divorce, it’s crucial for grandparents not to take sides. The focus should always be on the best interests of the child.
Divorce can complicate family dynamics. Grandparents may worry that a parent will inhibit their ability to spend time with their grandchildren. Grandparents should know their rights to protect their relationship with their grandkids.
The law believes that grandparents can be vital to ensuring a child’s welfare. So, how can grandparents ensure they remain part of their grandchildren’s lives?
- The law recognises the importance of grandparents in a child’s life.
- Parenting plans can incorporate grandparents in informal arrangements. Consent orders make those arrangements legally enforceable.
- The child’s best interests are the law’s biggest priority.
- Family disputes may necessitate getting a parenting order. Family dispute resolution is essential before making an application.
- Government subsidies are available for grandparents taking on parental responsibility.
- The Children’s Court and Federal Circuit and Family Court handle matters concerning children.
Many parents informally arrange their parenting responsibilities and where the child lives. Informal arrangements work if co-parents are on good terms and can communicate openly.
Even in these circumstances, it is worth putting together a parenting plan. Parenting plans are written documents that parents can refer back to for clarification.
Grandparents may ask for inclusion in the plan when it’s written. Parenting plans can incorporate grandparents in many different ways, including the following:
- Establishing visitation rights;
- Whether the grandparents will provide child care;
- What days the grandparents will pick the children up from school;
- How grandparents will assist with medical emergencies.
Parenting plans are not legally enforceable. However, the Court may consider parenting plans if a dispute arises.
Consent orders are the natural progression from a parenting plan. Consent orders make parenting arrangements legally enforceable. This gives grandparents greater assurance about their rights to see their grandchildren.
When applying to the Court for orders, applicants must satisfy certain criteria the Court imposes. When considering parenting orders, the Court only cares about the best interests of the child.
Child’s best interests in the Family Law Act
The Family Law Act 1975 seeks to preserve children’s best interests when drafting parenting orders. A child’s primary caring relationship is with their parents. The Act emphasises the importance of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents. However, the Court may reject this if there is a threat of abuse or family violence.
The law also considers the role of extended family and names grandparents specifically. Additional considerations the Court makes when creating orders include:
- The nature of the child’s relationship with their grandparents and other family members;
- The capacity of grandparents and other family members to take care of the child’s needs;
- The likely impact on the child of separation from relatives such as grandparents.
Parenting plans and consent orders are useful when divorced parents are civil. Problems can arise in cases where there is animosity within a separated family.
Difficulties with the child’s parents
Marriage breakdowns can cause deep divisions in families. A parent may try to restrict their child’s access to extended family and cut people out of their lives. Grandparents often worry that there’s no recourse for them in these situations.
However, as the Family Law Act makes clear, a grandparent is a person concerned with a child’s welfare. The Courts will consider input from grandparents regarding a child’s circumstances.
There are no explicit grandparents’ rights to a relationship with their grandchildren. However, the law recognises that grandparents have an interest in the child’s welfare. As such, grandparents can seek parenting orders if it’s in the child’s best interests.
Parenting orders are a last resort when arranging a child’s care. But sometimes, a parenting order is necessary. Before a grandparent applies for parenting orders, they must attempt alternative solutions. The Court will want evidence you have tried to sort out any disputes through mediation.
Family dispute resolution
The ongoing conflict between parents and grandparents can be harmful to a child. The Court wants conflicts resolved amicably so children can connect with the whole family. Therefore, before grandparents can seek parenting orders, they must undergo family dispute resolution.
A family dispute resolution service provides a safe space for families to resolve their differences. Family dispute resolution (FDR) undertaken through an accredited provider is confidential. FDR providers are impartial when helping families find solutions to childcare arrangements.
Once parties complete this process, they receive a certificate. This certificate will allow you to proceed with a parenting order application.
In special cases, a grandparent may bypass the need for mediation in situations where:
- The child was subject to family violence or abuse;
- Your situation is particularly urgent.
Applying for a parenting order
Section 65C(ba) of the Family Law Act specifically refers to a grandparent’s ability to apply for parenting orders. Grandparents can seek parenting orders to achieve several things, including:
- Spending time in-person with grandchildren;
- Having contact with grandchildren over the phone or other communication methods;
- Having guardianship of grandchildren.
To support their application, grandparents should provide evidence of such things as:
- Your financial circumstances;
- The nature of your relationship with your grandchildren;
- Details about your family’s situation;
- The wishes of your grandchildren if they are mature enough;
- Whether the child is exposed to physical or psychological harm;
- Addiction problems the parents may have;
- Whether the parents experience physical or mental health issues.
Subsidies for grandparents with parental responsibility
Grandparents who take on significant child care may access financial assistance. This child support assistance can be crucial for grandparents living on a pension. You may be eligible for a family tax or grandparent child care benefit.
These subsidies require that you take on a minimum percentage of a child’s care. Providing evidence, such as a parenting order, is necessary.
Family Court or Children’s Court?
Concerning children, the Federal Circuit and Family Court and the Children’s Court may both be involved. The Children’s Court hears cases on child safety while the Family Court oversees parenting orders.
A child protection agency may bring a child safety case to a Children’s Court. The agency may find a relative, such as a grandparent, suitable for parental responsibility. The agency may advise that relative to apply for a parenting order with the Family Court.
Get legal advice
Ideally, families will work together for the best interests of their children. The law recognises that grandparents are vital to a child’s life. Finding ways to incorporate grandparents through parenting plans and consent orders is best.
However, parenting and child safety issues can be complex and emotionally charged. Grandparents concerned about their rights regarding grandchildren should seek legal advice. The team at Shanahan Family Law is here to help. We have extensive experience working with families to resolve parenting disputes. Contact us today to set up an initial discovery call.
The above information is intended to be general advice only and is not a substitute for personalised advice. Because it does not consider your individual circumstances, it is not intended to be relied upon, and any loss or damage arising from any such reliance is disclaimed. Any financial or legal decisions should only occur after you have received tailored advice from a legal or financial professional.