Do grandparents have an automatic right to spend time with or make decisions about their grandchildren?
In Australia the short answer is no, they do not. However, grandparents’ relationship with their grandkids is still important in Australian family law. Many grandparents play an active and valued role in their grandchildren’s lives. However, when parents separate the grandparents may find themselves cut off from their grandkids against their will.
So, what can you do about it? Here are some steps you can consider taking:
Seek Mediation for Access to Your Grandkids
Before pursuing legal action, consider mediation or alternative dispute resolution to reach an agreement. A trained mediator can facilitate a discussion between you and your grandchild’s parents to come to a mutual decision focused on the child’s best interests. However, a mediator can’t offer you legal advice during the mediation process, and they must remain impartial.
Consult a Family Lawyer about Your Rights as a Grandparent
If mediation fails, or you would like some legal advice before you attend a mediation, consult a family lawyer about your options. A lawyer can provide expert guidance on grandparents’ rights and obligations under Australian family law. They can also represent you in negotiating an access agreement or filing an application with the court.
Make a Court Application if Negotiations Fail
Sadly, mediation or direct negotiations don’t always work. In those situations, you may need to apply to the court for an order that provides for you to spend time with your grandkids. This is not a step to take lightly. Family court matters can unfortunately take a long time to resolve. They can also be expensive if they go all the way to a trial. When you speak to a lawyer and develop a case plan about your matter they can provide a general estimate of costs to go to trial.
In Australian family law the court makes decisions considering the best interests of the child. It is recognised that a meaningful relationship with grandparents and other relatives is important to children’s lives.
The court will also consider factors such as safety concerns. These may not directly relate to you as the grandparents but may require your time to be supervised. Supervised access is when a social worker or trusted third party monitors your visits with your grandchild, either on a short-term basis while the concerns are dealt with, or as a long-term solution.
Stay Focused on Your Relationship
Most importantly, try to keep communication open with your grandchild’s parents. Avoid being adversarial and focus on maintaining the loving grandparent-grandchild relationship.