Losing contact with your grandchildren is absolutely heartbreaking. Whether it’s the result of your grandchildren simply just moving away with their parents or it’s the result of a family feud, it can be really hard to deal with.
But today we’re going to talk about when you’re not allowed to see your grandchildren despite your best efforts – the mother may have taken them away, or you may have had a falling out with the mother or father, or maybe something else happened.
Whatever it was, sorting out exactly what you are feeling and developing a strategy for dealing with your feelings and getting back in contact with your grandchildren is important.
Here are some strategies for finding a way to navigate what you’re going through.
1. You may be feeling shocked and angry
If until recently you saw your grandchildren and then they were suddenly unreachable, you may be feeling really upset and angry. And even if there was a history of conflicts, you may still be shocked that the parents are willing to take such a drastic step.
What to do:
Don’t let your anger overpower or overshadow your feelings of love for your grandkids. Anger can cause people to do things they may regret, so instead, speak to someone you can trust to work off some of the anger and make a plan.
2. You might be confused or unsure what happened
Often grandparents feel that they have been denied contact with their grandchildren through no fault of their own, resulting in feelings of confusion and frustration. Basically, there are two scenarios why you may be unable to contact or see your grandchildren: either you are guilty of something, whether you realise or admit it, or the parents are punishing you for another reason.
What to do:
Apologise profusely. If one or both of the parents are willing to talk, let them do the bulk of the talking, and apologise, even if you’re not in the wrong. Your grandchild is what’s important, not your pride.
3. Hopelessness and depression
It’s normal to feel really helpless and hopeless when you are estranged from a family member, and not by your own doing. It can be highly frustrating to know that you never meant for it to end up like this, and you are likely wondering what could’ve gone differently.
What to do:
Instead of blaming yourself (especially if you’ve done nothing to cause the separation), find other things to distract you. Find other grandparents going through something similar and assess what they did. Never give up on seeing your grandchildren again, and attempt to send cards or letters, without addressing their parents barring you.
Another avenue may be to investigate your legal rights of visitation.
4. Legal rights of grandparents
There two main laws that can affect children and their grandparents: family law, and child care and protection law.
Family Law Act
Grandparents can use the Family Law Act to apply to court for orders that their grandchildren live with or spend time with them. You can do this whether the parents of the children are together or separated.
The Family Law Act acknowledges the importance of children having a relationship with their grandparents. Grandparents are specifically mentioned in the Family Law Act as being able to apply to a court for orders to do with their grandchildren. However it is important to be aware that this does not mean that grandparents have an automatic right to have contact with the children.
The Family Law Act makes it clear that the ‘best interests of the child’ are the main considerations when it comes to decisions about parenting.
Care and Protection Law
These laws change from state to state but usually the law is applied when the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) thinks it is necessary to intervene to protect a child or young person from neglect or abuse.
5. What to do if you are being stopped from seeing your grandchildren
Grandparents do not have an automatic right to have a relationship with a grandchild, however if they have an ongoing relationship with the child, or they are concerned with the care, welfare or development of a child, they may apply to the Court for Parenting Orders. A Parenting Order can be an order that you can spend time with or communicate with the child. It will be up to the Court to decide what will happen, based on what is in the child’s best interests.
If your child and/or their partner is refusing to let you see or speak to your grandchild you can take steps to be able to see them again.
Step 1: Get legal advice
You should get legal advice about your particular situation and what you can do. You can get free legal advice from your closest Legal Aid office. To find your nearest Legal Aid office visit their website in your state:
Step 2: Dispute resolution
Going to court is never pleasant, especially when it’s family against family. Not only that but it is very stressful, time consuming and expensive. This is why coming to an agreement outside of court is the best way to solve any issues with child and/or their partner in relation to your grandchild.
Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) can provide up to three hours of joint dispute resolution sessions free of charge. They can also refer you to other dispute resolution services. You can find out more about FRCs at www.familyrelationships.gov.au or call 1800 050 321.
Step 3: Going to court
This is the last resort and often only occurs when you’re not able to resolve the dispute through mediation sessions. You will have to apply to court for an order that you can spend time with or communicate with your grandchild.
You can only lodge an application with the Court if you have a certificate from an accredited family dispute resolution practitioner to show that dispute resolution was attempted, says Legal Aid NSW. There can be penalties for a person who applies to the Court without first trying family dispute resolution.
It can take more than 12 months from the date you apply to the Court for final orders to be made, depending on how complicated the case is.