Parents may not be the only people in a child’s life with an interest in how a child is cared for when the parents are not living together. The law recognises the role of extended family members in a child’s life and those people are able to be involved in Court proceedings, as a child’s care is finalised.
Grandparents hold an important place in the life of a child. In many situations, grandparents are involved in the day-to-day care of a child or, at least, spend regular time with a child so as to develop a meaningful relationship with them.
In some circumstances, a grandparent may be involved in the consideration of a child’s future care. This is normally done if:
- One or both of the parents are not able to care for the children properly; or
- A grandparent is seeking contact with a child; or
- One or both of the parents are trying to prevent a grandparent from spending time with a child.
If neither parent is able to care for a child, grandparents who wish to seek care of a child may do so in the Family Court. Grandparents are a specified class of people who may bring an application for care of a child in the Family Court. Whilst a primary consideration in determining a child’s best interests includes maintaining a meaningful relationship with both their parents (see above under 2.2), this is trumped by the need to protect a child from exposure to abuse or neglect.
If you are a grandparent who thinks that they may need to make an application for care of a grandchild in circumstances of family violence or neglect, you should consider seeking legal advice, contacting Legal Aid, the Department for Child Protective Services or the Family Court of Western Australia.
Alternatively, if you are a grandparent who is seeking to spend time with a child and either or both of the parents are preventing you from doing so, you may be able to become involved in negotiations and Court proceedings. However, it should be kept in mind that, whilst it is required by the Court to consider a child’s relationship with their grandparents, the primary considerations include maintaining a meaningful relationship with a child’s parents. Thus, the views of the parents and their reasons for refusing contact will be considered.
For more information, you may wish to consider seeking independent legal advice.
In your separation, you may be concerned about the care of a child who is not your biological or adopted child. There are many blended families who separate and step-parents may, very naturally, wish to remain in a child’s life. However, as with all decisions about children, the question will be what parenting arrangement is best for the child.
If a child regards you as their “parent”, or you have stepped in as mother or father to a child in the absence of their biological parent, it may certainly be in the best interests of a child for them to spend time with you.
Like a grandparent, a step-parent may make an application in the Family Court of Western Australia for the care of a step-child.
Factors that will affect a step-parent’s decision to make an application (and any court decision) include:
- The nature and length of the child’s relationship with the step-parent;
- The existence of any half- or step-siblings that a child may have via the step-parent;
- Whether the step-parent acted as primary carer for the child; and
- The wishes of the child to continue a meaningful relationship with their step-parent.
Circumstances where step-parents are involved can be complicated, as this can often lead to a three-party approach: the two biological parents and then the step-parent. It is important for all parties to remember to keep the child’s best interests in mind in discussions about the child’s care.
If you are a step-parent who is considering care of a step-child, you may wish to consider getting legal advice.
Other Interested People
The law also allows for “any other interested person” to make an application in the Family Court for an order relating to a child’s care. This is commonly used by extended family members, including adult siblings and aunts and uncles.
Whilst any other interested person may make an application for a child’s care, the Court will still decide on the care of a child in light of their best interests. In that respect, even though a person can make an application, it doesn’t meant that their application will be successful.
For more information on the considerations that the Court will take into account when making an Order for a child’s care, see our Care of a Child tab.
If you would like to learn more about your particular circumstances, you may wish to consider seeking legal advice, Legal Aid or contacting the Family Court of Western Australia.