At a time when we are living longer and healthier lives it is also the case that the glue that formerly kept families together and in communication with one another has been stretched to breaking point.
The Care of the Children Act 2004 recognised this evolving family dynamic and the Act ensures that children have a way to maintain and develop a relationship with all wider family members including Grandparents.
A frequent issue arising for grandparents can be contact with their grandchildren in circumstances where either their child or their child’s partner becomes disenchanted with them and/or their partner and as a consequence stops contact with grandparents. Alternately it may be that one of the grandparents’ children is a disinterested parent and that provides a block on communication and contact.
It will come as no surprise and perhaps some satisfaction that both the Courts and Oranga Tamariki have recognised the increasingly important role played by grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren. In a Rotorua case in 2008 Judge Mackenzie noted that grandparents can “offer benefits to children different from parents, often because of life experiences and also because of greater availability of time”. In the Nelson Family Court Judge Russell commented “As I have said in a number of cases, it takes “a village to raise a child”, and good grandparents can teach children much about life which the children’s own parents cannot. They come from a different generation, and can teach children matters from a different perspective than can the children’s own parents.”
This brief commentary is directed to contact as distinct from day to day care (or what used to be called “custody”). In the case of contact then, grandparents have a right to apply to Court, subject to leave being granted. It would be unusual for the Courts not to grant leave in circumstances where grandparents are clearly motivated by a genuine interest in their grandchild and had a desire to have a meaningful relationship with them.
Before applying to the Court grandparents would need to go through a process known as FDR (Family Dispute Resolution). That requires the parties to mediate with the parents of the child with a view to reaching a satisfactory outcome. That process can take up to 6 weeks and does have a cost.
If the matter is unable to be resolved at the FDR stage then an application can be made to the Court for contact and at the same time an application for leave.
If you find yourself in this predicament then you should contact your lawyer to discuss what can be done. At Harmans we have a team of 5 lawyers in the Family Team who understand the application of the legislation and how to provide a pathway for you to either obtain contact or obtain a resumption of contact with your grandchild.
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