Caring for children when you are not their parent

Caring for children when you are not their parent

You may find yourself looking after a child who is your grandchild, nephew, niece or cousin if the parents of that child cannot care for them. Some of the reasons parents may not be able to care for their child is if:

  • they have drug or alcohol problems
  • they have mental health problems
  • they are in jail
  • they are working or studying away from home
  • the child has been removed from their care by state child protection agencies.

How family law applies to you

Children have the right to communicate and spend time with their parents and other people important to their welfare. Other people may include grandparents, uncles and aunts and other relatives, or unrelated people who are important to the children.

If you are a grandparent or other relative caring for a child, you can be involved in many of the family law processes that parents go through. In family law cases, the best interests of the child are the most important thing the family law courts will consider when making a decision.

What you can do

If you have a child in your care and you are not their parent, you may want to have this arrangement formalised. This will help you if you are required to show evidence of care, for example:

  • to get financial support
  • when consenting to medical treatment for the child
  • when you need to enrol the child in school or childcare.

Verbal or informal agreement

You may be able to come to an agreement with the child's parents about your involvement in the child's care without signing documents or going to court. The agreement can cover other areas of the child's life such as schooling and medical treatment.

This option works well if everybody involved trusts each other and can talk well with each other.

A parenting plan states, in writing, the living and care arrangements for a child. You may prefer this option if you feel more comfortable having a written agreement than a verbal one.

Parenting orders

Parenting orders are made through the family law courts. They are a more formal and enforceable type of agreement about the living and care arrangements for a child.

You may prefer to have parenting orders prepared if you have any concerns about one of the parents sticking to the agreement about the care of the child. The family law courts can enforce the agreement if one of the parties does not follow the order.

You must participate in family dispute resolution before applying for a parenting order. The law recognises that people other than the child's parents, such as grandparents and other relatives, may play an important role in the child's life. However, parenting orders will always consider what is in the child's best interest as most important.

Financial support

Government payments and Medicare

If you are caring for a child and you are not their parent, you may be eligible to receive government payments. The Department of Human Services website has information about the support for non-parent carers.

You can also claim Medicare benefits for medical expenses for the child while they are in your care.

Child support from the parents

You may be able to get child support payments from the parents of the child in your care. Child support can be a complex part of family law. It is important that you get legal advice.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with parenting arrangements and child contact.