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Family Law

Do grandparents have rights

Do Grandparents Have Rights in Family Law Disputes?

By | Family Law

We know that family law disputes are often tumultuous with so many people, quite apart from the 2 spouses and children that are caught in the crossfire. One such group, is grandparents and they often ask, what about our rights in relation to the grandchildren? In this podcast, OMB Solicitors’ Gary Mallett answers the question.

TRANSCRIPT

Dan: Gary, do Grandparents have rights?

Gary: The short answer is YES, and equally the grandchildren have rights under the Family Law Act to communicate and spend time on a regular basis with any person concerned with their care, welfare or development, including grandparents and other relatives.

The law, therefore, recognises the rights of the children to continue to have a relationship with their grandparents after separation of their parents.
As a result, grandparents are given the specific ability to apply for a parenting order for their grandchildren under 65C of the Family Law Act.

The best interests of each child will be the most important consideration in any case about care arrangements for grandchildren. It is the needs of each child and their right to spend time with both parents and other significant adults such as grandparents that are considered.

All care arrangements for the grandchildren must also be practical and must keep them safe from family violence and child abuse.
A grandparent does not therefore automatically have the right to spend time with their grandchildren or have their grandchildren live with them, particularly if it is not in the best interests of the children for that to happen.

As a grandparent, you may find yourself concerned about the welfare of your grandchildren.

You may be concerned that your grandchildren are being exposed to domestic violence, or that they are being abused, in their household.
Alternatively, your grandchildren’s parents may have separated, and the parent with whom the children are living may be refusing to allow your grandchildren to spend time with you.
In a further scenario, you might find yourself caring for a grandchild, either on a short term or long term basis because neither of the parents of that child is able to do so, because for example:

1. One or both of child’s parents have drug, alcohol or mental health problems;
2. Both of the child’s parents are deceased;
3. The parents are in jail;
4. The parents are working or studying away from home; or
5. The child has been removed from the care of their parents by Department of Child Safety officers, and placed with you.

Dan: Why would a grandparent need a parenting order in a situation where they already have the care of a grandchild?

Gary: If you have a grandchild or grandchildren in your fulltime care, you may still need to have parenting orders made for you to have parental responsibility for your grandchild or grandchildren, and for an order that they live with you for the following reasons:
• to provide evidence of care for Centrelink purposes:
• to enroll a child at school or in kindy;
• to enable you to apply to the court for a recovery order if a child is taken from your care;
• to consent to medical treatment for a child.
• to apply for a passport for a child.

Dan: What can Grandparents do in situations where care arrangements for their grandchildren are in dispute?

Gary: The first step, if your grandchildren’s parents are still alive, is to attempt to reach an agreement with the parents about the grandchildren spending time with you, or for you to have parental responsibility for grandchildren and for the grandchildren live with you, whatever the case may be.

This agreement can be reached by engaging solicitors to act for you to attempt to negotiate an agreement with the children’s parents, or by attending a family dispute resolution conference with both parents through a mediation organised by your solicitors, or through a government or community funded centre such as a Family Relationships Centre, Relationships Australia or Centacare.

If the parents are already involved in contested litigation in a family court over the children, it may be necessary for you to apply to the court to become a party to those court proceedings.

If you have been able to reach an agreement with the parents of your grandchildren about your involvement in the children’s care arrangements, then that agreement can be formalised by incorporating it into a written parenting plan for the children.

However, a parenting plan is not enforceable by the Court.

A parenting plan, does not give a grandparent any enforceable right to be able to spend time with their grandchildren, or to have parental responsibility for them.
I always recommend that grandparents go one step further and consult a solicitor to draw up the parenting plan as consent orders, and file an application in the Family Court for consent orders to formalise the agreement in the parenting plan.

Consent orders can be enforced by the Court, and a grandparent will need these orders if there is any concern about one or both of the parents sticking to the agreement that you have reached with them about your grandchildren.

If you cannot reach an agreement with the parents of your grandchildren, or both parents are deceased, then you will need to apply to the court for a Parenting order for your grandchildren. You will need a solicitor for this application to give yourself the best prospects of success.

A parenting order can cover:

• Who is to have parental responsibility for the grandchildren;

• With whom the grandchildren children are to live;

• who the grandchildren spend time and communicate with and how often;

• What orders need to be made to safeguard the grandchildren from exposure to family violence and child abuse;

• schooling or childcare for the grandchildren;

• medical issues;

• religious or cultural practices;

• financial support for the children; and

• how those with parental responsibility will communicate with each other.

Family law is a unique and specialised field of law, and legal advice and assistance is always recommended.

In particlar, legal advice should be immediately sought in the following circumstances:

• If you or your grandchildren are at risk of harm;

• There is an existing parenting dispute over the grandchildren that is in Court, and you need to apply to become a party to the proceedings;
• You have a parenting plan that you wish to made into consent orders;

• You have been presented with Consent Orders and have been asked to sign them;

• You need to apply to the Court for a parenting order because you cannot reach agreement
with the parents of the grandchildren, or because those parents are deceased;

• Before you appear in court;

• If you have an existing court order and you want to make changes to the arrangements for your grandchildren;
• if you disagree about what’s in the best interests of the grandchildren;
• if you believe that you have been bullied, tricked, intimidated, coerced, threatened or forced into signing consent orders; or
• if you have a grandchild in your care and you wish to seek child support. Child support can be another complex part of family law, and it is important to get legal advice about child support issues before you apply.

When Mediation Fails and an Agreement Cannot be Reached

By | Family Law

When alternative dispute resolution processes do not resolve the property or parenting issues in dispute with your ex-partner (taking into account that these processes require the co-operation of your ex-partner) you will need the assistance of the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court process to resolve your matter.

Are there time limits?

Unless you bring proceedings in the Family Court of Federal Circuit Court for a property settlement or spouse maintenance within 1 year from the date of your divorce being finalised, you lose the right to bring such proceedings without leave of the Court (which is not readily given).

What Happens During the Court Process

The process in both the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia follow the basic procedures below, with some minor variations, namely:

  1. An Initiating Application and an Affidavit by you in Support of the Application and a Financial Statement if a property matter, or a Notice of Risk if a parenting matter, is filed in the Court and served on the other party. A Court filing fee is payable;
  2. The other party must file and serve a Response, Affidavit and Financial Statement (or Notice of Risk) within fourteen (14) days of the first Court return date;
  3. The matter comes before the Court for the first time for a case assessment conference (Family Court) or for a “first return date” (Federal Circuit Court) and interim hearing if necessary (both Courts);
  4. The Court will make any orders by consent on the first return date, and will normally order that the parties attend a conciliation conference or a private mediation (for property matters) or that a Family Report be prepared and/or an Independent Children’s Lawyer (“ICL”) be appointed for the children (parenting matters);
  5. If the matter does not resolve at the conciliation conference or private mediation (property matters) or in line with the recommendations of the Family Report Writer and/or ICL (children’s matters), the matter is returned to Court for trial directions;
  6. The matter is prepared for a hearing, and a barrister is appointed to prepare for attend the hearing.
  7. The matter is heard by a Judge for a final decision.
  8. The Judge will hand down his or her decision, and this decision can only be appealed on certain grounds within twenty eight (28) days.

If there are any urgent matters which need to be determined by the Court prior to a final hearing, either party can bring an interim or urgent application in which case the matter will be dealt with depending on the urgency of the matter.

On the return date of an interim or urgent application, the Court will make a determination of the matter on an urgent basis and the matter is determined on the affidavit material filed and the submissions of both parties.  Normally oral evidence is not given at such a hearing. Affidavits must not be more than ten (10) pages in length, and the number of exhibits which can be attached is limited.

Important Considerations

During the Court proceedings, it is important to remember that:

  • Your personal appearance is required on all Court dates, including mentions and callovers, unless excused by the Judge beforehand;
  • You will need our assistance to prepared affidavit material (which may need to be settled by counsel) and this can be time consuming and costly;
  • Barristers will be required to be engaged for all defended interim hearings and for the final hearing of the matter. Whilst solicitors will generally appear on mentions, callovers, and where consent orders are being made, solicitors are not generally experts in Court advocacy and will engage counsel to provide the best possible representation of you and presentation of your case at defended and final hearings, particularly where cross-examination is required.
  • Every Court appearance carries with it an opportunity to resolve the matter or particular issues in dispute by consent with the other party, and therefore the most should be made of these opportunities.
  • Judges in the family court arena have a very wide discretion when it comes to making property adjustment orders, and this wide discretion gives limited rights to appeal a seemingly unfavourable decision towards a party.

Ladies Protect Your Assets

By | Family Law

Women who have gone through a separation or divorce will be the first to tell you that the process is daunting, expensive, lengthy and exhausting. You work hard, build your wealth, meet “Mr Right” and fall head over heels into a relationship, only to realise some years later that “Mr Right” was not all you expected. Suddenly, the joyride comes to an abrupt stop as your relationship is reduced to paperwork and numbers.

It is a harsh reality when you are told by your solicitor that when it comes to your property matters, it does not matter that he cheated on you, and that it does not necessarily matter that he did not bring the same amount of wealth into the relationship or contribute as much as you did financially… the reality is, he potentially has a claim to your assets, even those you owned prior to your relationship. You can fight it in Court and potentially win, but in most cases; it will cost you more than it’s worth, both financially and emotionally.

So what do you do? At the risk of saying the words that are still considered by many as taboo, you protect your assets, and you get him to sign a Binding Financial Agreement, or what is more commonly referred to as a Pre-nuptial Agreement.

Sure, it’s easier said than done, after all, how do you ask the man you love to sign a document that in short says, “in case we don’t work out, I keep my things, and you can’t touch them”. It implies you do not trust the relationship will work and that you do not trust him… at least that is how a lot of people see it. What you are really saying is, “I have worked hard to build my wealth. If things were to get ugly between us, promise me you won’t try to take away what I have worked so hard on my own to build.”

A Binding Financial Agreement will protect the assets you have accumulated prior to moving in with or marrying your partner. At the same time, it will allow you to decide together, in advance, and whilst you both have each other’s best interests in mind, what you think is fair and what you will do with your property in the event you separate.

You can do this and be proactive, or alternatively, take a reactive approach and try and sort through the mess when both of you are broken hearted and potentially upset at one another. Spend a little now to secure your interests, or spend a lot later in a bitter fight to the end, where potentially, no one wins.

Binding Financial Agreements can be entered into prior to or once a couple are living together; and at any time prior to or during a marriage. If you have separated, and you are concerned about your rights, we can also assist you. Contact our Family Law Solicitor on 07 5555 0000.

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This article was featured in Label Magazine, by Simon Bennett

Happily Ever After

By | Family Law

The urban myth lives on despite the reality of separation, divorce and bitter wrangles.

An ever increasing number of marriages fail to fulfil the happily ever after expectations most people dream of. Gold Coast lawyer Simon Bennett says it is wise to set romance aside and enter into marriage with a degree of protection.

“Few people would enter a business partnership without an agreement that protects against the unforeseen; the same rules should apply to marriage. It’s not very romantic but it does go someway to avoiding the hassles that can result from a relationship breakdown,” Simon says.

“Approaching a relationship breakdown is difficult when emotions are running high and most people are focused on anger, resentment and revenge. Both parties should take a commonsense approach and settle for a fair, equitable and just resolution. It is easier to do this when there is a cohabitation agreement in place,” he says. When a marriage or relationship breaks down there are a number of areas that must be resolved. These usually include property settlement, financial maintenance and custody of children.

Simon says that during a divorce, property settlement involves the division of matrimonial property, including all assets and liabilities including superannuation. “Division of property or deciding how much time is to be spent with children shouldn’t be about greed or point scoring. Family Law can far too often become the enemy rather than the means of resolving disputes, rectifying relationships and allowing parties to move forward,” he says. “The custody of children can be very complicated. Specific issues may include parental responsibilities such as day to day decision making, the time each parent spends with the child or children and child maintenance. Financial maintenance is generally controlled by the Child Support Agency,” he says.

“Advice should be sought from an experienced divorce solicitor. This ensures both parties are fully aware of their positions. The initial discussion should outline a plan for reasonably resolution. The next step generally involves another meeting with the parties involved and their representatives.

“When issues are resolved, agreements can be entered into. Where children are involved Family Court Consent Orders can be obtained. If agreements can’t be reached further legal advice is recommended,” he says.

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This article was featured in Label Magazine, by Simon Bennett

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