While there is no inherent right for grandparents to spend time with or care for their grandchildren, the Family Law Act does provide some protection for grandparents. When it comes to settling custody disputes, the court is always going to act with the best interest of the child at heart. Sometimes, this will require removing a child from the care and custody of a parent and placing that child with a grandparent. Although rare, circumstances do exist which warrant this type of action.
There are two ways in which a grandparent may seek a parenting order. The first is by making an application to communicate with and spend time with their grandchild. This type of application may be appropriate where a parent has chosen to sever are relationship with the grandparent, and is not allowing the grandparent to spend meaningful time with the grandchild. A grandparent may make this application regardless of whether the parents are separated or not.
The second action available to grandparents is to apply for an order seeking parental responsibility for the child. This action will only be appropriate in extreme circumstances, where both parents have proven they are unfit or unwilling to care for the child.
Grandparents who are concerned about visitation rights may rest assured that they are permitted to take action seeking visitation, and sometimes-even custody, of their grandchildren. The guiding principle in custody actions is ‘what is in the best interest of the child,’ and the relationship between a child and their grandparent will certainly be considered. If the grandparents had historically been present and involved in the child’s life the court will be inclined to allow the grandparent to continue this relationship despite the breakdown of the parent’s relationship and their subsequent refusal to let the child spend time with the grandparent.