PUBLISHED: 10:05 08 October 2015
In a family break-up, grandparents can play a key role in helping the grandchildren cope. Family law expert Marilyn Bell of SA Law, St Albans, looks at the legal footing of the relationship
In many families, grandparents are playing a bigger role in helping to care for children. It’s a frequent sight to see grandparents out shopping with buggies and treating their grandchildren to days out. At the school gates at drop-off and collection time, it is rare not to see a grandparent. But what happens if your child’s marriage breaks down – what can you do to ensure you remain part of your grandchildren’s lives?
It is often devastating for grandparents to learn their son or daughter is separating from a partner who often has been part of the family for many years. Sometimes grandparents feel it is better to stand back from the situation – especially if the separating couple are in dispute over divorce proceedings or the arrangements for the children – and wait for things to settle down. However, if contact between grandparents and grandchildren continues during this time, it usually helps and reassures the children that their grandparents are still in their lives.
During this time, it is particularly important that there are no conversations with grandchildren relating to the breakdown of the relationship and no criticism, however mild, of the other parent. Children are very sensitive and will easily pick up tension in adults. For instance, it is very easy for a grandparent, having empathy with a daughter’s financial difficulties perhaps, to respond to a grandchild’s remark ‘Daddy took us to the cinema and for a meal,’ with a negative remark about lack of maintenance money for the daughter.
It is important for children that they can talk freely about their parents and feel they have full approval to enjoy time spent with other members of their immediate and extended families. Many grandparents who have experienced their children separating or divorcing know the difficult path they need to walk to help to maintain family harmony.
Rights of grandparents
A lot is heard about grandparents’ rights. Many people think there is new legislation where grandparents now have rights that they didn’t have before, but the law has not actually changed.
The legal position is that it is possible for a grandparent, if all amicable efforts of resolution have failed, to apply to the court for a Child Arrangement Order – seeking time to have contact with the grandchildren. While a parent can also apply for a Child Arrangement Order, a grandparent first has to obtain permission of the court to make the application. This means explaining to the court the reason for the application. The courts are very keen for children to have contact with both sides of the family and will consider carefully applications by grandparents, particularly if there is any reason the children are not seeing a parent. For example, an application by paternal grandparents if their son is not having contact with the children (perhaps because of mental health) has a good chance of succeeding.
Children become very close to their grandparents and it can be additionally distressing for them when their parents separate if they also lose contact with the older generation.
For more advice about grandparents’ rights, Child Arrangement Orders, or other issues stemming from relationship breakdown, get in touch with legal experts such as SA Law’s dedicated Family Law team.