The newspapers are reporting that Thomas Markle has given an interview and said that he will take his daughter, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, to court for access to his two grandchildren, Archie and Lilibet. He has reportedly never met his grandchildren following the breakdown of his relationship with his daughter. The news headlines will have made many UK grandparents who have been refused contact with their grandchildren question what their legal rights are.
Grandparents can struggle with seeing their grandchildren for a variety of reasons, from their children moving to the other side of the UK or disagreements with their child or their son or daughter- in-law that leads to little or no contact with their grandchildren.
As specialist children law solicitors, we are always reluctant to talk about ‘grandparent rights’ until grandparents have tried to reach an amicable resolution over contact with their grandchildren. If that can’t be achieved through direct discussion then you may be able to reach an agreement through family mediation or solicitor negotiations. Talk of rights and court proceedings should only be raised if all other avenues have been explored.
You may question why Evolve Family Law doesn’t advocate immediate court proceedings as we are, after all, experts in court representation in contact proceedings. It is because of our expertise that we recommend you try alternatives first as giving evidence in court proceedings can further polarise families. Sometimes pragmatic, inexpensive advice is what you need.
Grandparent contact proceedings
If you can’t resolve matters by agreement, you may have no choice other than to apply to court to see your grandchildren. If court proceedings are necessary, the children law solicitors at Evolve Family Law will work hard to ensure that the court proceedings are focused on why contact with your grandchildren is in your grandchildren’s best interests and to try to avoid escalating family tensions.
If a grandparent wants to apply to court for contact it is a two-stage process. That is because grandparents don’t have a legal right to start an application for a child arrangement Order to secure grandparent contact without first obtaining court permission to make their application. The two-stage process should not deter you from applying to court as most grandparents receive court leave to make a full application for contact.
Grandparents applying for child arrangement Orders
A child arrangements Order is the new name for a contact or access order. If a parent, grandparent, or other relative wants contact with a child then this is the Order you will need to apply for.
When the court looks at the application by a grandparent for permission to apply for a child arrangement Order the court will assess:
- Your connection with the child.
- The nature of the application for contact.
- Whether your application might be potentially harmful to your grandchild’s well-being.
Once you have obtained permission to pursue your contact application to obtain a child arrangement Order the court will give directions on your substantive application, such as the filing of statements.
At any stage in the court proceedings, you can reach an agreement over grandparent contact so you don’t have to proceed with your application. If you can’t reach an agreement then a judge, at the final hearing of your court application, will decide what Orders are in your grandchild’s best interests.
The court uses what is referred to as the ‘welfare checklist’ to decide what Order to make whether the application for contact is being made by a parent, grandparent, or other family member.
Will I get contact with my grandchildren?
‘Will I get contact with my grandchildren?’ is the question that children law solicitors are asked. It is best to look at the factors that the court considers, and weigh them up, so you know the approach that a family judge will take as that may help you to decide whether to start court proceedings or whether to accept what you view as a compromise over contact with your grandchild.
When the court is deciding a question relating to a child’s upbringing and contact , the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration. That means what is best for the child can trump the parent’s views or what you want.
The court considers a set check list of factors when making orders relating to a child. The judge will make their decision based on what they think is best for a child. For example, a parent may want their child to have no contact with a grandparent and the grandparent may want weekly contact. The judge may say monthly contact is best because of the child’s weekend sporting or other commitments whilst recognising the importance of the child having a meaningful and ongoing relationship with their grandparents.
How Evolve can help with grandparent contact disputes
It is hard to accept that you aren’t seeing your grandchildren, especially when your friends talk about what they get up to with their own grandchildren. Getting grandparent law advice on your best options can help you understand what steps you can take to see your grandchildren.
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Louise Halford is an expert in children law and grandparent rights. She has many years of experience in helping grandparents gain contact with their grandchildren and understands the pain and pressures grandparents feel under when they can’t get to see their grandchildren for reasons outside their control. For expert, empathetic advice call Louise or complete our online enquiry form.