You're not the Parent of the Child? You may still have Rights.
When most people think about family law parenting matters, they imagine a mother and a father in dispute about the care and welfare of their child or children. But if you are someone who is concerned about the care, welfare and development of a child, then you may also be able to play a role in parenting proceedings.
The Family Law Act recognises that often there are people besides the parents of the child who are interested in the child's welfare, and who want to have an ongoing role in the children's lives. Most often this will be a grandparent or other relative of the child, but it may extend to close family friends or other people who have been involved in the upbringing and care of the child, such as former partners of either parent.
It is not uncommon for grandparents and other significant people in a child's life to become estranged from the child as a result of parental conflict or to step in and take a greater role in caring for children during this time. In these circumstances it may be necessary to bring an application to formalise your continuing relationship with the child. This is particularly important if the child is now living with you and you may need to make significant decisions for the child's welfare, such as enrolment in school or medical decisions such as whether the child receives counselling following the breakdown of the family unit.
The Family Court has recently held that there are no preferential positions as between parents and non-parents making an application for parenting Orders [Valentine & Lacerra and Anor (2013)], and that these applications are to be determined in the same way as an application between parents, that is, according to the specific circumstances of your matter and in accordance with the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.
In determining the best interests of the child, some of the factors that a Court must consider are the nature of the relationship with the parents and any other significant people in their life, and the effect of any change in circumstances separating the child from all of these people, including grandparents and other significant individuals. Grandparents and other significant people are able to apply to the court to have Orders in relation to spending time or communicating with the children, or in more serious cases to seek orders to have the children live with you and have decision-making capacity for the long-term welfare of the children.
What should you do?
If you have been prevented from seeing or contacting an important child in your life, or if you have recently become the primary carer for a child, you may need to seek legal advice about your rights and responsibilities. At Lamrocks we have experience representing 'significant others', including grandparents and former partners and we can advise you on what your rights might be.
For more information about non-parent involvement with children, or to discuss your specific circumstances, contact one of the experienced family law solicitors at Lamrocks Solicitors on 02 4731 5688.