Grandparents permitted to relocate
Pearce & Munro & Anor
GRANDPARENTS RELOCATION – REASONS FOR JUDGMENT
- On Wednesday 22 March 2017, this proceeding commenced before me as a three-day trial, in which a large array of issues was to be agitated over the course of the three days allocated for the hearing of the case. Ms Munro, the mother of the child X born (omitted) 2013 (“X”), appeared. She informed me that she had recently become unrepresented and that she wanted to make submissions and to present evidence on all issues, not the least of which was the question of sole parental responsibility, as well as equal shared parental responsibility, time with X and other matters.
- In discussions on the first day between counsel, it became apparent that the proceeding was not ready to go ahead on the day. One of the major issues at that time was the availability of an expert witness to give expert evidence in the case. It became apparent that the parties were not quite as opposed as may have first been apparent. So I rolled the matter into the second day to enable all parties to engage in discussion. They continued their discussions in a very cooperative and agreeable manner, for which I thanked them. That position continued into the third day of the trial, where we find ourselves today.
- After an enormous amount of negotiations between the parties, very helpfully and cooperatively participated in especially by Ms Munro, the parties got to the point this morning of outlining what were to be four remaining issues in the case. During the course of the morning, after hearing from all parties and especially Ms Munro, it turned out that the four issues that were the logjams in the case boiled down to one issue only. That is the subject of this ruling.
- In all other respects, the parties have signed, admittedly on the third day of the trial, minutes of proposed final consent orders as amended by me. They addressed all matters between the parties except a significant issue that could not be the subject of resolution, namely the question of the paternal grandparents’ relocation to (omitted). That was the subject of paragraph 17 of orders made on 11 March 2015.
- Accordingly, the orders that I pronounce by consent today make provision for permanent orders by consent until X obtains the age of 18. That disposes of all matters that are the subject of the agreed position. The remaining issue relates to relocation. It is to that that I now turn.
- Some background is necessary to explain my reasoning of the outcome that I have reached in this case.
- For essentially the whole of her life, X has been in the care of her parental grandparents. They have lived in the metropolitan area for most of X’s life, if not the entirety of it. In recent times, X has been attending a kindergarten in the (omitted) area where X is doing well – a matter the subject of agreement between the parties.
- The mother has opposed the relocation of the paternal grandparents to (omitted) on a number of grounds. She says those grounds go to the best interests of X. It must be remembered that the paternal grandparents have had the day-to-day involvement in the upbringing of X, as essentially putative parents from the date of X’s birth, aside from some short periods. It must also be borne in mind that the paternal grandparents have stepped in to the breach to do all tasks associated with the parenting of X.
- The mother’s circumstances are such that she has difficulty in dealing with matters that go to day-to-day issues. More recently, sadly, Ms Munro and the paternal grandparents have fallen out in their communications. Up until that fall-out, they appeared to have a very harmonious arrangement that existed for the advancement of the best interests of X, by which Ms Munro had time with X as and when required (it seems). That regime adequately balanced Ms Munro’s psychological or psychiatric circumstances with the need for X to enjoy a stable and balanced upbringing.
- We sadly have reached the point where an impasse has been met, at which Ms Munro opposes the paternal grandparents’ relocation to (omitted). The urgency surrounding the paternal grandparents’ relocation is this. They live in rented premises in (omitted) the landlord of which has served notices requiring them to vacate by next Thursday 30 March 2017, in default of which an application will be brought in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for their eviction. Their need for certainty is acute.
- Ms Munro has lived in a variety of places, presently enjoying no fixed address. I am told that she presently is unemployed and she lives with her former stepfather in accommodation in (omitted). She is concerned that if the paternal grandparents are permitted to relocate to (omitted), not only is there a significant distance between Ms Munro and (omitted) where X will live in the future, but also that X’s network in and around the (omitted) area will be affected adversely to X’s interests.
- Ms Munro has brought to my attention five reasons for not wanting the paternal grandparents to relocate. Before coming to those, may I say something about the entitlement that is usually given upon orders for sole parental responsibility being pronounced. Not only does a person who enjoys rights associated with sole parental responsibility have the ability to make critical decisions in the best interests of the child, but he or she has that entitlement without reference or consultation to, still less agreement from, anyone else. Ms Munro has agreed to the paternal grandmothers of X having sole parental responsibility. That carries with it the ability to move, and to do so without agreement or, indeed, input from anyone else.
- Putting that to one side, it seems to me that the age of X is such, and her establishment of networks in the metropolitan environs of Melbourne are not such, that she could not be satisfactorily taken to (omitted) with a view to establishing her new set of networks there. X is very young. She attends three-year-old kindergarten. It is not easy for me to understand how her circle of friends through kindergarten is so entrenched that she could not establish a new network upon starting at a new kindergarten. It is not easy for me to see how she could not establish a new circle of friends in the new environment of (omitted).
- Let me turn to the five reasons advanced by Ms Munro for opposing the paternal grandparents’ relocation.
- First, Ms Munro said that any relocation might affect X’s circle of friends. I do not agree. As already mentioned, a three-year-old generally establishes friends very quickly and new friends will be made when X starts up at her kindergarten in or around (omitted).
- Second, it was said that any relocation might hamper or impede the time that X might spend with other grandparents. I am not entirely sure how that argument is advanced, especially given that both grandparents have agreed to assist in the transportation of Ms Munro to see X in (omitted). By definition, they will have future involvement with X. And to the extent that that involves any physical activities associated with transportation, they will see not only Ms Munro, but if they wish, they will see X at her new location.
- Third, it is said that a relocation might restrict Ms Munro’s stepfather’s parents’ time with X. That might be the case but nothing in the material has been brought to my attention to indicate that anything but a favourable response would be given by the paternal grandparents should an overture be made by Ms Munro’s step-parents or others to see X. Put another way, I do not agree that there is necessarily on the evidence before me any impediment to Ms Munro’s step-parents seeing X if they choose to do so. In fact, if anything, the cooperative approach exhibited by the paternal grandparents and, indeed, by both grandparents, indicates that it is likely in the best interests of X that Ms Munro’s step-parents will be given whatever time they wish to see X.
- Fourth, it is said that Ms Munro has not heard of (omitted). (omitted) has been around for as long as the colony of Victoria has been established. And it certainly exists.
- Fifth, Ms Munro tells me that in her view, (omitted) is too far away. Of course, that is a subjective position adopted by Ms Munro. And no doubt she makes that submission by reference to the place where she presently lives. No doubt Ms Munro says that where she presently lives is a long travel to (omitted). That may well be her take on the travelling arrangements, but the grandparents have exhibited on all sides a remarkable willingness to accommodate Ms Munro and to enable X to have as much time with meaningful people in X’s lives than can be reasonably expected. The paternal grandparents are to be commended for that. They have offered to transport Ms Munro from (omitted) to (omitted) so long as Ms Munro expends the modest sum required by V/Line to obtain a fare from (omitted) train station to (omitted). In my opinion, that is an eminently reasonable position to adopt and the tyranny of distance is not such as to preclude operation of the transportation arrangements that the grandparents jointly offer.
- In my opinion, none of the reasons advanced by Ms Munro should legitimately impose an impediment to the paternal grandparents departing from their rented accommodation in (omitted) and re-establishing themselves with X in (omitted) under the arrangements that they have currently informed me. On top of that, counsel for the Independent Children’s Lawyer who is charged under the legislation with advocating the best interests of X has agreed with the position advanced by the paternal grandparents as propounded by Ms Mansfield and in respect of which Mr Hale had no opposition.
- For a short spurt during the course of the trial, a latter issue of a passport emerged. Essentially, the paternal grandparents have indicated that at some stage they may entertain the idea of overseas travel and to the extent that X may need a passport to do so they wanted permission to obtain one. They have not expressed any present intention of travelling or at least I did not take Ms Mansfield to be suggesting as much. To my mind, the safeguards associated in accommodating the wishes of Ms Munro are adequately protected by the provision, as offered by Ms Glover, of a duplicate copy of the passport to Ms Munro which should more than amply allay any fears exhibited by Ms Munro in respect of the passport.
- In short, the three days allocated for the trial of this proceeding have reached a happy, agreed position, except for the relocation. That was not agreed. But for the reasons that I have expressed in the foregoing, in my judgment the paternal grandparents should be entitled to relocate.
- The restrictions imposed by paragraph 17 of the orders made on
11 March 2015 by another Judge of this Court are relieved. I will ask counsel to formulate an order that gives effect to incorporating not only the totality of the minutes as have been amended and agreed as signed, but also a minute that gives effect to the entitlement of the paternal grandparents to relocate.