We are often asked about grandparents ‘rights’ to see their grandchildren. Contact can stop if a grandparent either falls out with their son or daughter-in-law or their own child. Contact can also stop if parents separate and the parent who is looking after the children think that the grandparents have sided with their own child during the divorce.
At other times contact can be stopped just because a parent wants to punish their ex-partner by not allowing his or her partner’s parents to see their grandchildren.
A grandparent provides many levels of support to a child. When families separate grandparents can provide continuity and stability in a child’s changing world. Frequently grandparents provide a lot of childcare and there is often no reason why they can’t continue to do so despite the breakdown of their son or daughter’s relationship.
Grandparents aren’t just childcare providers; they have lots of different roles from family historian to role model. Spending time with grandparents is an integral part of a child’s experience that benefits a child in different ways to other family relationships.
If a family have taken the decision to separate it is normally a really stressful time and often something said, in the heat of the moment, by a grandparent, can make the difference between whether or not grandparents have to fight to see their grandchildren. The best advice for grandparents is normally not to take sides and to say that no matter what the reasons for the relationship breakdown and the problems between the parents you as grandparents won’t take sides but will just be there for the family and grandchildren. It is not always possible to not be seen to ‘take sides’, especially where a son or daughter return to live with their parents on a temporary basis while they come to terms with the relationship breakdown or wait for their financial settlement. Another complicating factor can be when grandparents have given or lent money to their son or daughter-in–law to help them on the property ladder and so are intervening in the financial proceedings or help pay a grandchild’s school fees. It is important that both parents and grandparents ignore financial considerations when looking at the time spent by children with parents and extended family.
If grandparents can sort out contact with a grandchild it may be sensible to record the arrangements in the parent’s Parenting Plan. If grandparents can’t sort things out direct with their son or daughter in law or the relationship between the grandparents and their own child has broken down to such an extent that they can’t talk to one another comfortably then Mediation may help communication and resolve contact with grandchildren.
Under the current law, grandparents don’t have any automatic rights to see their grandchildren despite many grandparents playing a pivotal role in the upbringing of their grandchildren and providing support and stability.
Only parents or people with Parental Responsibility can make an application for a Child Arrangements Order. This type of Court Order sets out the time a child should spend with parents, and in appropriate cases, with grandparents or other important family extended family members such as adult siblings or half siblings or uncles and aunts. The Order could provide for regular contact or just cover a one off special holiday or the grandchildren being able to come to an 80th birthday party or golden wedding anniversary celebration.
To apply for a Child Arrangements Order a grandparent has to ask for permission to apply for the Order .The Court will consider the connection with the child (how close are the grandparents to the grandchild) , the nature of the application for contact, and whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child’s well-being in any way. It is essential that grandparents get specialist legal advice and support at this stage to make sure that they have explored alternatives to Court such as Mediation and, if so, to make sure that they successfully get permission to apply for an Order.
It is usual for a Court to give permission for a grandparent to apply for a Child Arrangements Order unless the grandparent is on good terms with their son or daughter and could see their grandchild whilst their son or daughter is seeing the children. This is because if the children’s parents have agreed a roughly equal split of time at weekends and holidays then the Court may think that each set of grandparents should spend time with their grandchildren during their son or daughter’s parenting time. That doesn’t always work , for example grandparents might want to continue to provide the mid-week child care they gave before the parents decided to split up or the parents may live many miles apart while grandparents live close to a son or daughter-in –law. As no families circumstances are the same it is always sensible to get specialist advice before applying for permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order.
Whoever applies for a Child Arrangements Order the Court has to consider whether or not the Order and contact is in the child’s best interests. The Court has to follow the same Court procedure and checklist, whether the application is by a parent, grandparent or other family member.
How does the Court make a decision about my grandchild?
When any family member is asking the Court to make a decision relating to a child’s upbringing and contact the Court considers exactly the same factors when deciding what Orders to make.
When a Court is determining any question relating to a child, the child’s welfare is the Court’s paramount consideration. The Court has regard to a set check list of factors when making orders relating to a child.
A Court will make a decision based on what a Judge thinks is right for a child. That decision takes the control away from the family and leaves it in the hands of the Court. For that reason families are encouraged to use Mediation first to see if they can reach a compromise and an agreement. Taking early specialist legal advice helps families understand their options and the potential outcome of a Court application. Louise Halford is a specialist solicitor who has many years of city centre experience in helping grandparents have contact with their grandchildren. Louise has a reputation for being approachable and going the extra mile for her clients.
Louise works with a number of other specialists and therapists who help families (either individuals struggling to come to terms with the sudden loss of contact with a grandchild or the family, depending on individual needs and family circumstances). Louise can put you in touch with someone to help support either you or your family.
What is a typical Court case for contact with a grandchild?
There is no such thing as a typical Court case as the Court decides on how each Court application is dealt with, including the number of Court hearings, whether statements of evidence should be filed and whether experts should prepare reports. No steps can generally be taken without the Court’s approval. Prior to being able to apply for a Court order most applicants applying for an Order have to try Mediation. If Mediation is not suitable or families can’t reach an agreement the Mediator will sign a form to say that Mediation has been tried but has not worked out. The Court can also ask families to go to Mediation during the Court proceedings. In children proceedings, the Court may hold a series of hearings. The number of Court hearings and the time taken to resolve the application will depend on the sorts of allegations that are made and the complexity of the issues.