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A growing number of families across Australia are forming close bonds with 'surrogate grandparents' who can offer them support, attention and affection when they may be missing a grandparent relationship in their lives.
Perhaps due to relocating to another city, marriage breakdown or a shift-working parent, these families have decided to connect with a senior who they met in their community or even online, and build a grandparent-like relationship for their children.
This unique arrangement often sees wonderful bonds grow between everyone involved, however like any other relationship, there may be a disagreement or a difference of opinion and the parents may decide they no longer want the surrogate grandparent in their child's life.
But ending the relationship may not be as simple as they think.
The Family Law legislation provides that any person (other than the parents) who is concerned with the welfare or development of the child could make an application to see that child.
This means that if parents have a falling-out with a surrogate grandparent, that person could be so involved with the child that they believe it is in the best interests of that child to continue seeing them.
Perhaps the surrogate grandparent was providing regular childcare or was very emotionally attached to the child. They could argue that it is important to remain in the child's life and maintain that relationship.
While they may have the option to make an application in court to see the child, the success of that application would be left up to the courts to decide what's in the best interests of the child.
The surrogate parent would still have to prove that it's in the best interests of the child to continuing seeing them, but it doesn’t prevent them from making an application in the first place.
Parents could be left in a situation where they don’t like that person but that person is still involved with their child. Whether the court decides it is in the interests of the child to maintain that contact will be assessed on a case by case basis.
Parents therefore should be very careful about who they are introducing to their child and realise that just because over time they've decided they don’t like that person, it doesn’t mean the child no longer likes them.
This goes for any person who is a significant part of the child's life, not just surrogate grandparents.
At the end of the day, it's about the best interests of the child and we must look at it from the child's perspective.