Separation or conflict can sometimes result in a grandparent’s access to their grandchildren being restricted or refused.
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and Family Court Act 1997 (WA) recognises the significant role that grandparents play in a child’s life and affords them rights, as “other people significant to a child’s care”, to spend time and communicate with the children.
However, there is no automatic legal right to contact or care for grandchildren, as the right lies with the child to have a relationship with their grandparents. It is ultimately a question of what is in the best interests of the child.
If a grandparent cannot negotiate arrangements with the child’s parents, or has concerns that the children are at risk in the parents’ care, then the first step is to attend mediation.
Unless there is a risk of child abuse or family violence, grandparents must first attempt family dispute resolution (i.e., mediation) to reach an agreement.
Mediation can provide the parties with an opportunity to discuss their concerns and negotiate an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.
Mediations can be arranged through public providers such as Anglicare, Relationships Australia, and Centre Care.
Mediations can be also be arranged by private mediators who are accredited specialists in the form of a mediation-style conference. This type of mediation will often require both parties to be legally represented for the purpose of the conference.
If family dispute resolution is unsuccessful, whether this is because the parties cannot reach an agreement or one or more of the parties refuse to attend, the grandparent will be issued with a Section 60i Certificate which allows them to commence proceedings in the Family Court seeking parenting orders.
Parenting orders can deal with various issues including the child’s residence, time spent with parents and other significant persons (including grandparents), travel, arrangements for special occasions, electronic communication, and any other matters relevant to the child.
In determining what arrangements are suitable in the circumstances, the Court will consider the nature of a child’s relationship with their grandparents as part of determining what is in their best interests. This will include considering the amount of time the child has spent with the grandchildren, whether this time was unsupervised or included overnight stays, how regularly the grandparents communicate with the child, any family violence, and other relevant factors.
The Family Court process is lengthy, emotional, and costly. It is always best for parties to negotiate an agreement and avoid having to initiate proceedings where possible.
It is important to understand how your particular circumstances might be considered, should you be experiencing difficulties as described above.
Sometimes, obtaining advice in the early stages of dispute can serve to limit stress and expense that you might otherwise experience should you leave matters unresolved. There is also the risk that your relationship with your grandchildren will start to deteriorate, causing further difficulty.
Contact us now on 08 9443 1111 to make an appointment to discuss the options that are available to you.