Including relatives in arrangements
Who can be involved in family law arrangements for children, apart from the children's parents?
The law gives parents, grandparents, and anyone else who is concerned with the children's care, welfare and development, the ability to be involved in parenting cases in the Family Court.
Just as with the parents, there is no 'right' to be part of a child's life; the focus is what is in the child's best interests. When considering what arrangements are in the best interests of children, the family law looks at the relationships with grandparents, relatives and other people who are important in the children's lives. The court can then make orders for children to live with, spend time with, and communicate with parents and other people, based on what is going to be best for the children.
This applies to all children, whether or not their parents are separating or still together. Grandparents and other important relatives might want to be included in parenting plans or parenting orders if the children are being restricted or stopped from spending time or communicating with them (for example, due to estrangement or family disputes).
How can I be included in the arrangements for children?
Grandparents, relatives and other important people can ask the parents to participate in mediation and counselling, and can be included in parenting plans. They can also be included in consent orders, if everyone agrees to turn a parenting plan into an enforceable set of orders.
If you want to be included in parenting orders, the process to start a case is the same for everyone. This also includes the requirements to participate in Family Dispute Resolution before applying to the Family Court. If you want to be involved in an existing parenting case in the Family Court, you will need to apply to the court to intervene as a party. The court will need to know more about your relationship with the children and the parenting orders you want before it can decide if you should be included as a party.
What if I'm already caring for the children and I am not their parent?
There is no legal requirement to have orders about the care of children. You might have an informal agreement with the children's parents, which has been in place for years and has worked well.
Depending on your situation, it might be helpful to try to apply for parenting orders (or consent orders based on a parenting plan), to formalise the arrangements and give you parental responsibility for the children. This would give you the legal ability to make major long term decisions about how the children are raised, including decisions about medical treatment and schooling.
You should get legal advice before you apply for parenting orders.