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Advice please? WARNING: VERY LONG, APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE!

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Many aspects, joint custody, grandparents rights etc.

Hi there, just a bit of background before my question if that is ok.  Firstly, I am trying to find info for my husband.  He has 3 children to a previous marriage (6, 9 & 10), he and the mother are not on the best terms although after many years all of their court orders are in place and seem to work as well as can be expected for a couple who really dislike each other.  He has been estranged from his own mother since Christmas Day 2008 and his children have not seen her since this time except for a time when they ran into her at a park whilst in the care of their maternal grandmother.  The reason for this estrangement is because sadly my husband and I have lost 2 children.  Our first child together was stillborn and our second child together passed away 2 years later at 5 days old after having to turn off his life support because he contracted a severe infection and went into septic shock.  His mother was quite supportive of us after the loss of our first son however, after our second son died she went all weird on us.  Sat us down a week after his funeral to tell us how angry she was at us that we had done this or not done that at the funeral.  She was disappointed in us that we didn't ask his brothers to speak at the funeral and things along these lines.  She told us that we need to pick ourselves up for the sake of the 3 kids he has.  We felt this was uncalled for as we had obviously forgotten to read the book that details appropriate and inappropriate ways to conduct yourself at your childs funeral (let alone your second dead child), and therefore this caused a bit of tension but we let it slide to avoid conflict.  We have both maintained a very close relationship with the 3 children throughout these 2 losses and in fact I feel that it has cemented a bond between them and I as family.  Fast forward to Christmas Day 2008, the day our second son would have been exactly 6 months old let alone being a day about children, and we went to my mother in laws house for Christmas dinner with my step-children.  Although not really relevant, it was meant to be a very low key day as we had been told after expressing our concern with not being able to cope well with the day as we would be so incredibly sad.  On the day we picked up the kids and went to his mother's and gradually everyone started arriving, cousins, aunts, uncles, second cousins etc.  Well more people than we thought, and more than we could cope with.  So as the day went by we were struggling to get through so decided to stay inside and play games with the kids rather than socialise with the adults (it was difficult because noone had acknowledged how difficult the day must be for us, let alone some of the people there who had not seen us since before our son died not even expressing their sorrow at our loss, it was the big elephant in the room I guess you could say).  In the end we got the feeling that everyone was talking about us so we decided to go and sit outside just for a little while, but ultimately it was too hard listening to everyone being so cheery and after someone told me to cheer up we decided we were better off with the kids inside.  I also overheard my mother in laws sister comment in a group that he was only sad because I was making him feel like he should be.  So on the way in my mother in law cornered my husband and told him we were making everyone feel uncomfortable.  He replied that he was doing his best and she replied well you need to try harder.  He got annoyed at this and said that it wasn't that easy and she told him it was about time he "got over it" because we were ruining everyones Christmas.  We then went inside to pack up the kids presents and leave (leaving behind the gifts we had been given, but not the kids as that would be unfair) and she followed him inside berating him in front of his kids and trying to get me on her side.  We both just kept our mouths shut, packed the kids in the car and went to drive off.  His aunty then followed us out to the car and again in front of the kids abused us and told us we were the most selfish people she had ever come across and that we should go in and beg for her forgiveness.  We didn't say anything back to her and when she gave up abusing us we drove off.  The older 2 kids were quite distressed and were crying and asked us what was going on.  We told them that sometimes people can be very nasty and that we shouldn't let them ruin our day.  So we went home and spent the rest of the day just our family.  We then didn't hear from his mother until 4 months later when she rang to "apologise", followed by "but it wouldn't have hurt you to pretend to be happy".  My husband told her that when she realised what she had done wrong to try calling again.  Another however many months went by with nothing and then again another "apology" followed by "but I really don't think I did anything wrong because someone needed to tell you".  So that was it until June, our second sons 1st birthday to be exact and we received a call.  We were touched at first thinking she had remembered and thought of us, only to find that she wanted to know "how long he was going to carry this on for".  That rubbish went on and on and eventually he had enough and told her to stop contacting him.

Fast forward to the here and now, it has now been 2 and 1/2 years since we have seen his mother.  We now are blessed to have a 15 month old daughter whom my mother in law has never met, our daughter was very sick at birth and on life support but thank god pulled through.  During this time we did not get one single text message or phone call from her to say she was thinking of us or our daughter or praying for us or anything of the sort.  We are in contact with his 2 brothers and one of their partners and their children so she knew everything that was happening.  She has also apparently refused to look at any photos of our daughter saying that apparently she doesn't care (I was told this, did not hear it myself).  She is now holding money over his head that he took from his inheritence to fight in court to see his kids.  Her story is that she has written him out of her will so there is no longer any money to inherit and therefore she wants it back.  The nastiness has really peaked in the last week or 2, she has been leaving messages saying you are a coward and I am not going away until I get my money.  And then leaves another message saying hi coward the only way you are getting rid of me is to pay me my money.  It is becoming very stressful I have to say!  Then tonight a message saying again hi coward you want to get rid of me then give me my money, and followed by another message saying oh and I am going to fight to access to X, Y and Z (his kids obviously).  She has not mentioned wanting any access to our daughter, only his other 3 children.  As mentioned he is divorced from their mother and although not on friendly terms he has sent her a message warning her of his mothers intentions.  We feel that this threat is pure revenge, his mother knows the one way to hurt him is through his children.  If she really wanted to see them we do not understand why she has not tried to contact them in the past 2 and 1/2 years (that includes at their mums home), she has not even sent them a birthday or Christmas card during that time.

Now to my questions, my husband is worried that due to the laws that now protect grandparents rights she will be able to win access to the children.  This concerns him firstly because it is well known in his family that she has bad-mouthed him to everyone including his 2 nieces.  She has run their mother down in front of them and he believes she will do the same to him.  She has also told the entire family that we are not talking to her because we owe her money and we are concerned that the children will be told this also, we have not elaborated to the children as to why they do not see her.  We have also been open with them and told them if they want to speak to her on the phone they can always ask.  But that was a couple of years and in that whole time they have not asked so we have not encouraged it.  I guess he is worried because of the reason above but also he has very limited time with his children as it is.  He has a standard contact arrangement of every other weekend and half of school holidays, with the addition of birthdays and Christmas and Easter contact.  He is worried that she will be able to take some of this time away from him.  It is unlikely his ex will agree to extra contact with being ordered by the court as apart from school days she really only has the same amount of contact as he does, and she never got along with his mother when they were married.  Does she have a right to take time away from him even though he does not see them all the time?  And also is there any way we can stop her calling?  The constant messages are really making my husband upset and I really feel for him.  Does the way she treated us in the past have any impact on her rights to the children?  Given that she felt we should get over it 6 months after losing our second child, we feel that she has proven herself to not be a loving grandmother (that is our opinion only of course).  While we realise the children have a right to her, we believe she is a toxic person and will not be a good influence in their lives.  Does the fact that she only wants to have access to 3 of his 4 living children impact on her credibility in court?  We really believe this is hurtful and possibly emotionally damaging to our daughter as she grows up that his mother only cares about her brother and sisters and not her.

I apologise so much for the length of this post, it is such an emotive and complicated saga that I thought it would be helpful for you to have all of the information before offering any advice.  Please can I ask in advance that noone attack me, I am after advice only, and in the end whether you believe we have been unfair on her or not by cutting her off please remember that we are grieving parents and any negative comments regarding the loss of our children would be very hurtful.

Thanks in advance :)
First and foremost, grandparents have NO RIGHTS whatsoever. Parents have no rights either. When it comes to family law, the children have all the rights. It is all about what is in the best interest of the child, so just because she has the tag of "grandma" and decides she wants to have access to the kids, that does not automatically entitle her to anything. The children have a right (by law) to a meaningful relationship with both parents, and by extension, their respective families. However, many facotrs will need to be considered - the kids' views on the matter, whether it will cause unnecessary conflict (which is not in theri best nterests), the level of responsibility/ effort she has put into maintaining a relationship, and so on. Clearly she is only doing this as a power play, and that will be important evidence if she takes you to court. Don't panic yet, call her bluff. She may be just threatening, and if you don't let it cause you anxiety, the game will lose it's power.

Yes, you can do something to stop her upsetting and abusive phone calls. The last thing you want is your kids coming across their grandma abusing dad on the answering machine. You can go to your local courthouse and enquire about an AVO on the grounds of harassment/intimidation. If you proceed it will cost you between $2-500 represented, or do some research and represent yourself. You don't deserve this treatment, and you don't have to put up with it.

You need to do one very important thing starting right now - document EVERYTHING. Every phone call she makes, every message on the machine, every text, and any face to face interaction. Get a journal or notebook and write down dates, times, contents of conversation, no matter how minor or insignificant it may seem. You will need to compile these things for an AVO hearing, but even if you choose not to, these will all come in handy if you end up in family court. This will demonstrate to the court what her motives are, how conflictual she is, etc.

Even if she does manage to get access to the kids, with a grandparent who's had zero involvement for the last 2yrs, the most she'd be looking at would probably be something in the vicinity of 1 day or weekend every month or two. It would not taken out of your husband's time specifically, it would have to be worked into a set plan, ie, every 4th Saturday. All her bad behaviour would not do her any favours, and it would cost her a whole lot of money to take this to court (tens of thousands), when the prospects of getting a significant result are not guaranteed. I would just call her bluff and not let it bother you. Either she's trying to frighten you, or she hasn't done her research. Good luck!
Thank you so much for you reply, it has been very helpful.  Also has helped me to stop stressing a little.  I am pleased to hear that the 2yr gap between contact will hinder her if she was to take it that far.  And I have to admit I am inclined to question whether she is bluffing as you said.  Either way my husband has decided he would like to organise a mediation conference between us and her, not to mend the relationship as she is not someone we think will be a positive influence in our life, but to at least try to sort out the situation of money and after this is done she will have no need to contact us ever again.  I suspect she will find some reason to do so but we will cross that bridge if or when we come to it.

Thanks again for your help, much appreciated :)
Wow!  And I thought I was the only one with a manipulative, grandstanding mother!

I can't help you out with an AVO application as I've not been through that process.  The police are usually the first point of contact so I'd front up to your local police station and ask what would be required to have such an order issued.

From what you have written about the M-I-L's behaviour and her absence for the child's life to date, she has Buckley's of successfully gaining any time with her grandchild.  There may be a Magistrate/Judge in the family law courts who may allow some form of supervised contact - but if things are as bad as what you say they are, then I doubt it.  There would be a lot of legal argument, famiy reports would have to be prepared etc etc.  This sort of matter would have to be heard in trial format.  If this charming lady is so focussed on money, then I doubt she would pay the $20k - $30k in legal fees to have the matter heard.

BUT just in case she is that game, make sure you document EVERYTHING - as rabbit has previously stated.   This is very important!!  Magistrates get tired of parties appearing before them with loads of sensational claims and heresay evidence in affidavits, but eventually the matter plays out like a kindergarten quarrel as everything is he-says, she-says.  The one who files diary notes and hard-copy printouts of text messages is the one who is likely to receive a more even-handed approach.  If you or your husband has to front her in person, make sure you take a credible witness with you who can file an affidavit in support of your claims if things get ugly.

With respect to her evil text messages, if you have the right software for your phone, you should be able to download these messages to your PC and print them out.  They can then be stuck in a diary or journal along and notes can be added accordingly.  This form of evidence is devistatingly effective - as my Ex found out during her time with me in Court.

As far as the payment from his 'inheritance' is concerned - legally this could be nothing more than a 'gift", unless there was some form of contract draw up between hubby and his mum at the time, but I would suggest that he talk to his solicitor about this as it's an altogether different matter to her seeking to be involved in your child's life.

Good luck.  You're not on your own.
Thanks so much, also nice to know my husband is not the only one with a mum like this!  As a mother myself, I really cannot understand treating your child this way even if you really believe they have wronged you.

I did take Rabbit's advice and have started noting down everything and recorded the recent telephone calls in the diary, and also recorded them on my husbands iphone before deleting them from our answering machine just in case.  He has kept all text messages he has received from her thankfully!

Now we are just hoping that his ex doesnt see this as a way to get revenge on him by allowing her to see them even though they never got along, yes it has been 6yrs but some women can be really bitter and twisted (and I am allowed to say that cause I am a woman :p).  

It is interesting to hear that you succeeded in using text messages in family court, during the court battles (and yes I truly mean battles) he has had with his ex, which I have been through with him, the judge never allowed text messages to be used as evidence.  She accused my husband of  threatening and intimadating him and he tried to use messages he had received from her threatening to stop him seeing the kids as evidence that it was the other way around - well not intimidating him, just threatening him - and they said they were not relevant.  But anyway, I will definitely keep them, he keeps all messages from his mum and his ex these days.  Sorry, that went a little off topic…

As far as the money goes there is no contract, he did sign to say he had accepted the money but that was because he has 2 brothers who benefit from the will and he wanted it documented how much money he had taken so that noone could accuse him of ripping them off (his family are a little different).  But at the end of the day, if a court ordered us to pay the money back then we would live with it and try to see the positives that she now has no reason to ever contact us again.  And instead of her insisting that we take out a loan to pay her back I am hoping that a judge will look over our capacity to pay and make a judgement of what s/he believes we can afford each month or so.

And I guess as a mum, I am just feeling really sad for my daughter.  Although I don't want her to have anything to do with her grandmother, I would feel so sad for her to have to grow up knowing that she fought to see her brother and sisters but not to see her.  I think that could really affect the self esteem of a young child.  But then I could be just being dramatic given that I have a protective instinct towards her.

Anyway, thanks again for your help :)
Just briefly on the use of text messages - I think you'd probably find that your partner's texts being disallowed would have more to do with the relevance of the texts within the context of the case. In other words, it was possibly the content or the messages that was irrelevant, rather than the fact that they were sent by text. Text messages are used fairly extensively as evidence, so definitely print them out or transcribe them into your diary (don't forget the dates, times and sender's number), and continue to save the originals. 
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