What happens when there is a marriage breakdown and grandparents are prevented from seeing their grandchildren?

The Family Law Act recognises that children have a right to spend time with significant persons in their lives which include:

  • both of their parents, regardless of whether the parents are living together or not
  • step-parents
  • siblings
  • half-siblings
  • step-siblings
  • grandparents
  • aunts
  • uncles
  • nephews
  • nieces; and
  • any other person that may have had a significant involvement in the child's life.

When grandparents are seeking to spend time with their grandchildren, the Court takes into account the best interests of a child. This is determined by assessing:

  • The benefit that the child would have in spending time with the grandparent and its impact on the relationship that the child would have with his or her own parents, siblings etc
  • The wishes of the child (taking into account their age, maturity and understanding of the situation)
  • Whether there is any risk or need to protect a child from physical or psychological harm and/or from being exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence
  • The relationship between the grandparent and their adult child and son/daughter in law (the grandchild's other parent)
  • Whether the relationship between the grandparent and the parents of the child or other extended family members has become so irretrievably broken down that exposing the child to acrimony between adults would not be in the best interests of the child
  • If the relationship has broken down, what are the reasons for that breakdown and is there a need to protect the grandchild from any physical or psychological harm, abuse, neglect or family violence?

The Court may look at ways to mend the broken relationships by ordering therapeutic family counselling and obtaining evidence from experts that may be appointed to the case such as psychologists or psychiatrists.

This is a complex area of family law and we encourage any grandparent or other person seeking to spend time with a child that has become estranged from them, to seek legal advice.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.