Nannas and Pops are among the least conspicuous victims of separation and divorce. In nearly all cases, Australia's Family Court ensures that both parents have the chance to maintain a relationship with their child. But it rarely makes orders on behalf of grandparents. A common result is that the non-custodial parent's mum and dad fade from the child's life - along with lifetimes of accrued wisdom. At forums, children told the parliamentary committee that grandparents, unlike some parents, give love that is unconditional and untainted by insecurities and power plays.
But nothing about family breakdown is ever simple. In Sue's case, it's her own daughter who's shutting her out, in retaliation for all manner of mistakes and indiscretions that Sue insists she never committed. At one point she spent, she says, $A5,000 on legal fees trying to win the right to visit the kids - if only to make sure they're okay - but ran out of money and couldn't pursue the claim. The children's father is also excluded. "The problem is that the custodial parent can brainwash the children," says Sue, "tell them things that the little children believe. So the boy doesn't even want to see his father now, and I can promise you that this man is a very sweet and gentle soul."
Though it's always been possible under Australia's Family Law Act for grandparents to make an application to the court for residential custody of, or contact with, a child, the parliamentary committee suggested this isn't well known in the community. The Australian Government is set to make several grandparent-friendly amendments to the Act. One would stipulate that parenting plans could - and should - address how both sets of grandparents might continue a relationship with their grandchildren. Another would require judges to consider grandparental contact when determining what is in the best interests of the child. Grandparents would also be welcome at the FRCs.
Of course, many grandparents do more than just spoil the cubs occasionally. Lynne and Terry Swain, of Queensland's Sunshine Coast, have had custody of two granddaughters since 1999 as a result of the girls' parents' drug use. Lynne had to stop working to look after Kacie, now nine, and Amaya, eight, and the couple have eroded their savings defending custody in court. "I've got other grandchildren and it's hard on them because I haven't got the time to spend with them," says Lynne, 55. "I'm doing school canteen again, swimming carnivals . . . the children love to see you there, but it's exhausting the second time around."