GRANDPARENTS will be encouraged to maintain links with grandchildren in messy family breakups and help resolve custody disputes under changes to be announced by the Federal Government today.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said he wanted courts and family relationship centres to help grandparents affected by separations by providing them with information on their rights and involving them in disputes when appropriate.
Mr McClelland said under the changes grandparents would be able to get advice on family law issues and potentially become involved in court proceedings if they believed it would benefit their interests or the child's.
"This has been suggested by judges I've had discussions with, particularly in cases where relations between parents are dysfunctional, grandparents can be a real saving grace, giving them (the judges) options for residence and to provide some stability in the child's life," Mr McClelland told The Sunday Age.
"It is a relationship that can provide children with love, support and additional care, particularly during times of family relationship difficulties."
Under the changes, the Australian Institute of Family Studies is being commissioned to examine how family law changes introduced in 2006 have affected grandparents, and also whether grandparents have proved a positive influence in traumatic family breakdowns. It is also working on new guidelines to help Family Relationship Centres deal with cases involving grandparents, including counselling parents on the importance of grandparents after family breakdowns.
Resources such as DVDs and brochures informing grandparents of their rights will be distributed by the courts and government agencies, while legal aid centres are being given about $400,000 to extend dispute resolution services to grandparents.
Grandparents are also being given access to the Parting Order Program, where separating families involved in particularly difficult disputes are given access to counselling and dispute resolution services.
Under the 2006 changes, grandparents were given rights to participate in counselling and family dispute resolution with children's parents.
Grandparents were also given rights to apply for parenting orders and child maintenance.
Campaigner Dian Underwood said the moves did not tackle the key issues facing estranged grandparents, especially the complexity and expense of the legal system.
"We don't need more studies," she said. "It's the same old rhetoric.
"What we need is a legal system that is accessible … it needs to be simplified."
Ms Underwood said there were thousands of estranged grandparents across Australia, and called on the Government to establish a register so estranged grandchildren could track down their grandparents when they are older.
"The children's identity is stolen," she said. "It's the grandchild's right … to know their grandparents."