A few weeks ago I wrote about the impact of relationship breakdown on older couples. One issue dear to the hearts of many older couples is their grandchildren. Unfortunately, grandparents’ time with their grandchildren can frequently be an unintended casualty of the breakdown of the relationship between the grandchildren’s parents.
This is well illustrated by the story of a couple I know. Before the parents’ marriage ended, both sets of grandparents frequently spent time with the grandchildren, then aged about five and two. When the children’s mother asked her husband to leave the home, he initially spent time with his children every second or third weekend. He made sure that he involved his parents in the children’s lives on those weekends.
The time that the mother’s parents spent with the grandchildren also increased markedly at that time. Unfortunately, as the parties fought about money and children through the Family Court, their relationship deteriorated to the point where the mother made it increasingly emotionally difficult for the children to spend time with their father, to the point where the relationship between the children and their father completely broke down.
At that point, the paternal grandparents sought to maintain a relationship with their son’s children, only to be told by the children’s mother that they could not spend time with the children unless they were supervised by the mother’s own parents. There had never been any suggestion that the grandparents had or would abuse or neglect the children, which is what would normally give rise to supervised time with the children. In those circumstances, the requirement that the paternal grandparents’ time with the children be supervised was unnecessary, inappropriate and offensive.
Fortunately, after many years of patiently trying to improve matters, those grandparents are now able to see their grandchildren reasonably regularly, including having them come to stay for short holidays.
However, it does raise the question of what legal redress is available to grandparents in such cases if their patient attempts to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren fail.
Grandparents can apply to the court for an order to spend time with their grandchildren. When deciding what order to make about children, the paramount consideration for the court is “what is in the children’s best interests”. In deciding what is in the children’s best interests, the court must primarily consider the benefit to the children of having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm.
In addition to those primary considerations, the court can take into account other factors including the nature of the relationship between the children and significant other people, including grandparents. That is, the Family Law Act specifically refers to the relationship between children and grandparents as something which the court can take into account when making orders for where a child will live and what time a child will spend with different people (including with grandparents).
In some cases, grandparents actually apply for an order that the grandchildren live primarily and permanently with them and spend only limited, perhaps supervised, time with each of their parents. This can occur in cases where, perhaps for reasons of physical or psychological abuse, drug abuse or mental illness, the court finds that it would not be in the children’s best interests to live primarily with their own parents and that they would be protected from harm by living with and being cared for by stable grandparents.
If you’re a grandparent and you’re concerned about these issues, a talk with an experienced family lawyer would be your first step. We are experienced in dealing with all the issues surrounding grandparents’ rights and we’d be happy to have an obligation-free talk to you about your rights.