Family Law Blog

The Law re Loathsome In-laws

Posted by on 18 Nov 2011

“My mother-in-law is an angel” one man said to his friend. “You are lucky,” his friend replied, “mine is still alive.”

We have all heard the jokes, whether they were said with tears of laughter or tears of frustration.  Actually, just out of curiosity I entered “in-law jokes” into my favourite search engine and it came back with 113,000,000 page results. If each of those pages contains at least 10 jokes, that’s 113 trillion jokes at least and that is just for a quick search using just the English language!

I am willing to bet that there are probably enough in-law jokes floating out there to cover every couple that have ever entered into a relationship during the history of mankind! But having lost myMelbournecup bets, I am not holding my breath for the above results either.

On an interesting side note, a survey conducted a couple of years ago found that women in general tend not to like mother-in-law jokes as they were either mothers-in-law themselves or knew they would one day become one. However no matter which side you are on, I think it is safe to say that plenty more than a fair few people in relationships have an issue or 10 with their in-laws.

For the Anti In-laws group, a story published by the Herald Sun on 1 October 2011 titled Mother-in-law obsession with cleanliness tainted in court would have provided enough of a shock to convince a few fence-sitters into quickly joining the ‘anti’ ranks. To put the horrifying details in a nut-shell, a mother-in-law provided photos to the court, showing common household items (think plastic bread tag, 5c coin and Panadol packet) being misplaced in her daughter-in-law’s home to prove the state of the house’s un-cleanliness and that it was unsuitable to raise a child.

Federal Magistrate Joe Harman said in a judgment published early October that it was “extraordinary that someone would take photographs of another person's house unless it was to prove allegations at a later date.” Not only that but "certainly what is depicted in the photographs, save for one room which would appear to be a computer room in a state of relative untidiness, is a functioning household with a small child."

To me, it was not only interesting to see how the mother-in-law in the above story could be in the running for winning the gold medal for single-handedly resurrecting the flailing image of the stereotypical nightmarish mother-in-law but she in fact shocked the article’s author enough into not referring to her by the title she would have referred to herself with in court – Grandmother.

For the pro in-laws group you will probably note that while the word “mother-in-law” brings up some uncouth adjectives to mind, the word “grandmother” usually brings up adjectives that are the exact opposite, and both often refer to the same person.

This being said if you are a grandparent who is being painted with the ‘in-law’ brush when trying to spend time with your grandchildren following the separation of the parents, you would be happy to know that sections 60CC(3)(b)(ii) and 60CC(3)(d)(ii) take into account your relationship with your grandchildren when determining orders that are in the children’s best interests.

Many grandparents fail to realise that spending time with their grandchildren is simply their right. That being said, while the Court takes into account a child’s rights to spend time with his or her grandparent when considering the child’s best interests it will not tolerate applications such as general complaints about a parent’s cleanliness or their choice of the child’s sporting activity.

So before you lodge that court application, it is always wise to talk to a Family Law Specialist to consider your reasonable prospects of success.