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Law and money: grandparent and kinship carers

When you become a grandparent carer or kinship carer, you might need to deal with some law and money issues. There are legal and financial services that can help you work out what’s best for the child and your situation.

Types of grandparent or kinship care

There are three main types of grandparent or kinship care. The type of grandparent or kinship care you have affects the decisions you can make about the child and the financial benefits you might get. For example, enrolling the child in school or agreeing to a medical procedure for the child is usually easier if you have a court order.

Informal arrangement
This is when you have an agreement with the child’s family about caring for the child, without a court order like a child protection order or a family law order. The child’s parents have parental responsibility.

Informal arrangement plus a family law order
A family law order is an order from the Family Court. It lists who has parental responsibility for the child – for example, you as a kinship carer. It can give you some security about your caring arrangement. The Court can ask for others to recognise the rights listed in the family law order. Others might include your child’s school, for example.

This arrangement is still informal because it doesn’t give you formal – or foster – carer status, even though you have a family law order.

A formal arrangement with a child protection order
A child protection order is made by the Child Protection Court in your state or territory. A child protection order is used when there’s been a report to the child protection authority that a child is at risk. As a grandparent or kinship carer, you can apply for full or shared parental responsibility.

This arrangement is formal because a child protection order gives you formal carer status, like foster carers have.

Video

Grandparent carers: legal and financial support

2:42

In this short video, grandparents talk about the financial strains of caring for grandchildren and experiences of going to court. A family support worker explains how to find out about your legal rights as a grandparent carer. You might also be able to get different kinds of financial support, depending on how you became your grandchild’s carer. 

Working through legal issues about the care of a child can take a lot of time and money. For information about legal and financial support, you can call Family Relationships Online – 1800 050 321. The Australian Government’s Grandparent Advisers can tell you out about payments, services and support in your area. You can call them on 1800 245 965. You could also contact the Australian Government Department of Human Services for advice. 

Legal and financial support for new carers

Here’s a legal and financial ‘to do’ list for new carers.

Centrelink
Find out what government payments you’re entitled to. These can include family assistance, help with the cost of child care, the Double Orphan Pension and one-off payments. For example, you might be eligible for a lump sum when you start caring for a baby or child who has recently come into your care.

Some payments are means tested.

If the child has a disability or medical condition, you can ask about carer supports like the Carer Payment and the Carer Allowance.

If you’ve had to stop work, move house or make any other financial changes to your life to care for the child, you might be able to get other support from Centrelink.

Centrelink can also help you apply for a Foster Child Health Care Card. This card can help you with medical expenses – for example, bulk billing when you take the child to the doctor.

It was a little bit tough at times, financially.
– Freda, grandparent carer

Medicare
Call Medicare on 132 011 to add a child to your Medicare Safety Net. The Medicare Safety Net helps with high out-of-pocket costs for certain Medicare services.

Child support
Think about whether you want to negotiate child support from the child’s parents, or be assessed for child support. These decisions will depend on your relationship with the child’s parents and your financial situation. For information about child support, you can phone the Australian Government Department of Human Services on 131 272.

Child protection benefits
If you have the care of a child with a child protection order, the child protection authority in your state or territory will give you regular payments for everyday costs, case management support, training and respite. If the child has special needs, you might get higher rates as well as help with education, respite and health costs.

Check with the child protection authority in your state or territory about other payments or benefits.

If you have the care of a child with or without a family law order, you might be able to get a carer card, respite or other support. Support for carers is different across states and territories.

Court orders
Look into making changes to court orders if you need to.

Court orders can list the time a child spends with parents. You might have mixed feelings about this, especially if you’ve had problems with the child’s parents before. If you feel that the current contact arrangement with parents is causing problems for you or the child, talk to your child protection agency or lawyer about making changes.

It took 14 years through the Family Court, back and forth, fighting for custody. It was a long, drawn-out process.
– Rae, grandparent carer

Informal Caregivers Statutory Declaration
If you’re a grandparent or kinship carer with informal arrangements (and without a family law order), fill in a statutory declaration form so that you can give parental consent for the child’s school excursions. This declaration doesn’t affect the parents’ rights.

For further information, contact the attorney general’s office, child protection authority or education department in your state or territory.

Budget
Do a family budget to keep track of the changes to your finances. A family budget planner might help with this.

Law and money issues for carers in the longer term

If you’ve been caring for a child for a while and you’ve already covered the basics, here are a few other things to think about.

Victim compensation
If the child in your care was a victim of crime or witnessed one, he might be able to get compensation from the state or territory where the crime happened. This compensation might cover counselling support and medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering. Check the time limits for application, and keep in mind that there’s some flexibility when a child is involved.

To find out more, contact the attorney general’s office or justice department in your state or territory.

Making or changing your will
You might be worried about who’ll care for the child after you die. It’s a good idea to plan for this by making or changing your will.

A will is a legal document that lists who gets your money and property when you die, and who cares for any children. It’s important to include the reasons why you’ve chosen a person to care for the child and why some family members get more or less of your property than others. In the will, you can attach letters from witnesses, or other evidence that shows your relationship with the child.

If a child in your care gets something from your will, think about appointing a trustee who will manage what the child gets until she’s an adult. You can include instructions on how any money can be spent for the child – for example, on school fees and housing.

If a carer dies and there’s a court order for the care of the child, the matter returns to the court where the order was made. The court will then use evidence – for example, your will and supporting letters – to decide who’ll care for the child.

For information and legal advice, contact legal aid, your solicitor or the public trustee in your state or territory.

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Last updated or reviewed
04-06-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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