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.
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.
If your son or daughter is getting divorced then, as a grandparent, it is a traumatic time. You may not agree with your child’s decision to separate from their husband or wife or get on with their new partner. You may not like how your child is being used as a pawn by their warring parents. This blog looks at what rights grandparents have in a divorce.
Grandparents and Children Law
Cheshire children law solicitors have seen a marked rise in enquiries from grandparents wanting to know about their right to see their grandchildren following the separation or divorce of their son or daughter.
Children solicitors put the rise in enquiries about grandparent rights down to:
Grandparents having a better understanding that they do have some rights from organisations set up to help grandparents and from social media;
Grandparents being actively involved in bringing up their grandchildren and not wanting to lose contact or their close bond with their grandchild because of a divorce;
Newspaper reports about cases where grandparents have made successful applications to obtain family court orders to enable them to see their grandchildren and maintain their relationship with them.
Some grandparents and parents assume that there is a special ‘’grandparent application’’ that a grandparent cam make to secure access to their grandchild. Top Cheshire family law solicitors say that there is no special application available for grandparents.
If a relative of a child wants to see a child and the parent or parents object to contact then the relative (including grandparents) can make an application to the family court under the Children Act 1989.
Normally a grandparent wants an order that they can see their grandchildren on a regular basis. This type of family court order used to be called an access order or contact order. The terminology has changed and if a grandparent wants access to or contact with a grandchild they need to apply to court for permission to apply for a child arrangements order .
When a grandparent finds out that they need to ask the court for permission to apply for a child arrangements order, the court process can seem unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome. After all, a parent or anyone else with parental responsibility for a child does not need to first ask the court if they can apply for an order. However, specialist children solicitors say that grandparents should not be put off from making a court application for a child arrangements order just because they need to ask for permission to apply for an order.
Applying for Permission
If a grandparent has had a close relationship with a grandchild and they are being stopped from spending any time with their grandchild then generally the court will grant permission to make the court application for a child arrangements order.
Once permission has been granted to apply for a child arrangements order then the court application will proceed in exactly the same way as a parent applying for contact or an order to see their child.
Grandparents and Child Arrangements Orders
When a court is asked to make a child arrangements order it will look at whether or not the court thinks that the order being sought is in the child’s best interests, taking into account a range of factors known as the ‘’welfare checklist’’.
The court will undertake a similar exercise whether a parent, aunt, sibling or grandparent makes an application for a child arrangements order. However, courts do increasingly understand just how important a grandparent is in a child’s life and how vital it is for children to maintain a relationship with their extended family after a separation or divorce.
For legal assistance with grandparent rights please contact our expert children law solicitors today
Good news for grandparents – children law reform proposed – to give grandparents a right to apply to Court to see their grandchild.
As a children lawyer I smile when I see a grandparent out with a grandchild. Why? I’m often asked for advice on grandparents ‘rights’ and it is therefore great to see children enjoying time with grandparents.
Sadly grandparent contact can stop if:
There is a family fallout with a son or daughter-in-law;
Parents separate and the parent who is looking after the children thinks that a grandparent took sides during the divorce or wants to exert control;
The death of a child and the remarriage of a son or daughter in law;
Family moving away or going to live abroad.
All too often when families split up grandparents can be forgotten, despite providing support such as:
Continuity and stability in a grandchild’s changing post-divorce world;
Childcare if both parents have to go back to work after a marriage breakdown;
A fun relative and role model.
The current grandparent and child law
Under current children law, grandparents don’t have an automatic right to apply to Court to see their grandchildren. Grandparents have to undergo a two stage process:
Ask the Court for permission to be able to apply for a Court Child Arrangements Order.
If they get permission then apply for an order setting out the time a grandchild should spend with their grandparents. The Order can provide for regular contact or just cover a one off special holiday or the grandchild being able to come to an 80th birthday party or golden wedding celebration.
When a grandparent asks for Court permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order the Court considers:
The connection with the child (how close are the grandparents to the grandchild);
The nature of the application for contact;
Whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child's well-being in any way.
Although it is usual for a Court to give permission for a grandparent to apply for a Child Arrangements Order the two stage Court process can be off putting to a grandparent desperate to see their grandchild. Once permission to apply for the Court order is granted the Court then has to decide whether contact is in the child’s best interests.
The proposed grandparent reform
According to press reports the proposed change to the children law is to do away with the need for grandparents and other close family to have to ask the Court for permission to apply for a Court order to see their grandchild.
If the law is changed then grandparents will be treated in exactly the same way as a parent asking for a Court order to see their child. The reform has long been advocated by people’s campaigner and grandmother, Esther Rantzen. If the law is reformed it will make it easier for grandparents to see their grandchildren and grandparents will have the same ‘’rights’’ as parents to apply to stay in touch with their loved ones.
For help with any aspect of children law please contact us
Esther Rantzen is fortunate enough to have a brood of grandchildren and in August 2017 she welcomed the birth of twin granddaughters. Writing in the Daily Mail she has highlighted the plight of grandparents who are estranged from their grandchildren https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4838198/Loving-grannies-frozen-daughters-law.html.
As a children's lawyer, I regularly help both parents and grandparents and so hear both sides of the story, from either the parent or grandparent perspective depending on who is instructing me. No one story is the same but whether the story is told by a parent or grandparent it is always heart rendering to think that, for whatever reason good or bad, that a child is not able to develop a relationship with his or her grandparent.
I always feel for estranged grandparents during the long summer school holiday when you see lots of grandparents out and about with their grandchildren or together on family holidays. In many cases lack of contact is down to grandparents being cut out of lives after a divorce. Often, prior to the divorce, the grandparents were providing a lot of the childcare and so it is all the harder for them and the grandchild to come to terms with the estrangement.
Many situations of grandparent alienation occur after a parental separation and cases of estrangement could be reduced if families were able to communicate better in the aftermath of a divorce. That is really hard to do so as often the inclination is to take sides on behalf of a son or daughter or grandparents are wrongly thought to do so by their in-law by the grandparent offering their son or daughter an ear to listen to or temporary accommodation in the spare room.
Family mediation can be a good option to help both parents and extended family communicate. If mediation doesn't work then Court proceedings can be started by grandparents and although, as reported in the article by Esther Rantzen, grandparents don't have automatic rights Courts look at what is in a child's best interests and so normally consider, unless there is a good reason to the contrary, that children should have a relationship with their extended family.
For advice on any aspect of children law please contact us.