Many Grandparents find their close relationship with their grandchildren abruptly disconnected in circumstances of their child’s relationship breaking down with the co-parent of their grandchildren or when their own relationship with their grandchild’s parent and/or parents breaks down.
It is often the situation that a Grandparent has had a key role in the parental responsibility of their grandchild for a period of time. The law views parental responsibility as; all duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which parents have in relation to their children including long term decisions as determining a child’s religion, education and decisions about health.
According to Jones Mitchell Senior Associate, Joelene Seaton, family lawyers are regularly consulted by grandparents seeking to establish, or continue, a meaningful relationship with a grandchild.
Ms Seaton said under changes to the Family Law Act in 1995, grandparents can now seek parenting orders including orders that their grandchildren spend time and communicate with them regularly.
If the court views it to be in the best interests of the child a parental responsibility order can be made in favour of a child’s grandparent(s) or any other person concerned with the child’s care, welfare and development. The best interests of the child are always paramount in the court’s decision making and a court will determine the amount of time a person is given parental responsibility for a child for example if it is sole parental responsibility or shared between parent/s and grandparent/s.
In extreme situations of absent parents, or those who are unable to provide for the needs of a child, grandparents have the power to seek orders that the child live with them.
Ms Seaton said grandparents were often the “forgotten victims” in a relationship breakdown who could offer their grandchildren additional avenues for emotional and financial support through life.
“Grandparents are often the ‘backstop’ for when a child’s own parents are unable to care for their child. In some cases grandparents have had their grandchild live with them for a period of time, when their child (the parent) has been absent, or when they have been supporting their child through issues of their own.
“In one case the grandparents had even purchased a house for their child and grandchild to live in, so that the child did not have to move school each time the mother was evicted from her accommodation. Grandparents can often provide stability to their grandchildren during difficult periods.
“The court recognises that grandparents play a significant part in the lives of their grandchildren and it can take steps to ensure that children continue to benefit from such relationships. Ms Seaton said.