For most families within our culture today, intergenerational family life continues to be an important factor in the development and dynamic of family relationships. For many families, a significant part of this dynamic involves grandparents assisting in the care arrangements for their grandchildren on varying levels.
Sadly, the impact of separation between a couple or a relationship breakdown between family members can often result in children feeling disconnected and isolated from their grandparents and vice versa.
The current state of play
Earlier reforms to the family law legislation ensured that grandparents had standing to bring an application before the Court to spend time with their grandchildren and to reduce the potential for parental separation on the grandparent–grandchild relationship.
Under section 65C of the Family Law Act, a parenting order in relation to a child can be applied for by either or both parents, the child, a grandparent or any other person concerned with the care, welfare or development of a child.
In addition to this, there has been further acknowledgement within relevant sections of the Family Law Act that recognise the important and significant role that extended family members (including grandparents) play in a child’s life.
Section 60B(2)(b) of the Act states that “children 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 and other relatives)”.
Whilst this may come as a relief to many grandparents, it is important that they understand that in the absence of a court order, they still hold no rights in relation to their grandchildren.
In the event that a formal agreement between the relevant parties cannot be reached, an application to Court may become necessary to resolve the issues that are in dispute. Should this be required, it is important for grandparents to understand that the Court when considering their application, still must have regard to the same factors that it would consider in determining a dispute between two parents of a child. Those factors relate to the best interests of a child and are set out under section 60CC of the Family Law Act.
Grandparents who have found themselves feeling disenfranchised from their grandchildren should seek legal advice in relation to the options that are available to them.