Legal access warning over ‘surrogate grandparents’

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surrogate-grandparentsGreenwood woman “Penny” is in the market for somebody else’s grandchildren.

The mother-of-two has a degree in children’s studies, a Working With Children card, a car seat and foldable cot.

But she’s not looking for babysitting work.

Older West Australians like Penny with time on their hands have turned to online free classifies website Gumtree and organisations like ‘Find a Grandparent’ to connect with families “in need of a grandparent in their life.”

And there’s a growing market for them, as families seek out “surrogate grandparents” to enrich their childrens’ lives in lieu of available or able blood relatives.

“We don’t have much family in Perth and our kids are missing out,” a Balcatta mother posted on Gumtree in June.

“Please contact me if you are calm, kind and patient and want to know more.”

But prominent law firm Slater and Gordon has warned families that “surrogate grandparent” relationships may be mutually beneficial, but also come with potential legal issues.

“I am not looking for financial gain however I will say that I do want a give and take relationship,” Penny wrote in her advertisement.

“If you are lonely and needing help looking after your children and don’t have access to your own grandparents then please make contact with me as I think we can make a friendship that is mutually beneficial.

“Children are great company I have two sons but I would like a granddaughter to spoil.”

Slater and Gordon family law specialist Ian Shann said people were having children later in life,  pushing the age of natural grandparents up, which coupled with separations and reallocations, was seeing more children miss out on the benefits of a grandparent in their life.

“Instead of being in your 50s or 60s as a grandparent you’re in your 60s or 70s and you’re less capable of looking after grandchildren,” he told 6PR’s Jane Marwick on Friday.

And with nearly 50 per cent of child care in Australia provided by grandparents, according to Mr Shann, surrogate grandparents also promised a welcome reprieve for parents lacking family support.

“Because of these social changes and people having children later a bit of a movement has sprung up of surrogate grandparents: people who put themselves up to look after kids as if they were their grandparents because kids are missing out on the grandparent relationship,” Mr Shann said.

While Mr Shann acknowledged these arrangements could fill important needs for both parties, he warned of the possible legal complications.

“People then become involved in your family as if they were a grandparent,” he said.

“But there are some issues here because not only grandparents have rights under family law, but theoretically surrogate grandparents could have rights as well.

“Anybody who has got an interest in the welfare of a child can bring an application in the family court so if you fall out with your surrogate grandparent, don’t think that’s the end of the story.”

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