In 2013 our family legislation was completely overhauled. This is relevant because the legislation we were using – the Family Relations Act – originated in a time when the nuclear family was the norm. Therefore any breakdowns of family were dealt with in light of two biological parents deciding to split up and dealing with questions around what to do with the children of these biological parents.
However, this isn’t always our reality currently and hasn’t been so for a long time. We see more and more blended families where a non-biological parent takes on the roles of a parent to a child or step grandparents enjoy being grandma and grandpa to nonbiological grandchildren. In many instances, this relationship is just as meaningful to the child and is painful for the child to loose if the relationship breaks down. Our new legislation – the Family Law Act – has provisions to ensure that just because you aren’t the biological parent of a child does not mean that you loose all rights to continue to see that child and be in that child’s life.
Section 58 to 60 of the new Family Law Act contemplates contact with a child and the ways to ensure that a person continues to have a relationship with the child after a relationship breaks down. In fact, the phrase “contact” is used in relation to all parties with whom the child has a significant relationship that are not guardians. This concept is new and essentially “codifies” the right of a child to continue to have a meaningful relationship with a person who is not their biological parent. This would include people like step parents and grand parents.
What the act provides for is parties entering into agreements allowing non guardians to have time with a child and, in the event that the parties can’t agree, the court can make a decision providing for non guardians to have time with a child. As with all considerations of time with a child, the court will consider what amount and type of time is in the best interests of the child when coming up with an appropriate amount of contact for a person and the child.
What is important to remember is that the focus now is on how to ensure that all meaningful relationships that the child had prior to the breakdown of the relationship are continued as long as they are in the best interests of the child. This is as a result of a focused effort to ensure that non biological parents of children are still able to continue to have time and a relationship with a child with whom they have spent a lot of time with after a relationship breaks down. The basic goal is to avoid parents from punishing non biological parents or grand parents for perceived slights by stopping them having time with a child.
Remember this basic rule and you will be fine: a child is not a pawn to be used to punish another person with. Children do not ask to get divorced and most importantly, they have a right to know that no matter how the new family dynamic may look, the maximum number of people still love them and want to spend time with them. That is our job as adults. And if you are unable to do it between yourselves, rest assured that the courts will do it for you.
If you need need help never hesitate to get in touch. We are here to help.