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 need 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 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 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 parent 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.
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 Services Australia website has information about the support for non-parent .
You can also claim Medicare 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.
Find out how you can get other support for parenting arrangements and child contact.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
Reviewed 07 April 2022