Unfortunately, the arrangements for contact between grandparents and their grandchildren can be adversely impacted for various reasons, often when their own children are experiencing challenges. This article provides a basic understanding of family law regarding maintaining contact with your grandchildren.
It is important, at the outset, to understand that a grandparent does not have an automatic or legal right to have access to grandchildren or to see their grandchildren regularly. If you are concerned about continuing arrangements to see your much-loved grandchildren after a family breakup, in the first instance you might express to their parents how much you miss seeing them. You might also seek additional information regarding your own legal position. Each family law case is unique, and a family law solicitor can address your specific issues.
Reasons why grandparents may be shut out
There are several reasons why grandparents may be excluded from regular interaction with their grandchildren, including:
- Divorce or separation of any parent or grandparent
- Marriage or re-marriage or new relationships of one of the parents
- Arguments between a grandparent and the child’s parent
- Holding different beliefs, cultures or ideas about raising children to those held by the parents
- Illness or economic problems, work commitments, or moving abroad or far away from the family
The main reason for grandparents losing access to their grandchildren, however, is that the parents of the grandchildren have split up. Too frequently situations turn ugly, become seemingly unfair and people you may have previously thought of as family may change, start being difficult and try to stop you from seeing their children. Sadly, many separating parents are so angry with the other parent that they may use access to children as a pawn in a protracted divorce process. Where there has previously been a close relationship this can be as distressing for the grandchildren as the grandparents.
Using mediation to try to resolve disputes
If a grandparent feels their rights regarding access to their grandchild are being neglected or superseded, they will want the situation resolved as painlessly as possible for all involved.
Mediation is a quicker and cheaper way to resolve a dispute than going to court. It is strongly encouraged for family disputes and will often lead to a positive outcome. Mediation allows all parties to have their say and to discuss the situation. This can be done face-to-face or via online sessions.
A trained family mediator can help to steer the conversation towards a workable outcome. Once the parties agree on the best solution, an agreement can be drafted that will be legally binding.
Applications by grandparents under the Children Act 1989
Because there is not an automatic right for grandparents to see their grandchildren, only a court order can force a parent to allow contact between a child and his or her grandparent. Therefore, if you have been unable to arrive at a solution that all parties are happy with regarding access to grandchildren, then a family court judge can decide the matter for you.
Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, you can apply to the family court for an order. You need to complete the C100 form and pay the required fee. To support your application, you should gather as much evidence as possible regarding the relationship you have with your grandchild.
What the court considers
The Family Court will always prioritise the best interests of the child or children, over any other parties’ interests. However, it is generally accepted these days that it is beneficial for a child to spend time with grandparents and their extended family. This, of course, will depend on many factors including the wishes of the child, the relationship between the grandparent and the child, any previous history of abuse or neglect, how much time and money are available for the child’s travel, etc. You should focus on providing evidence or reasons for what the child will gain from continuing a relationship with you.
The aim of any court order will be to ensure the best outcome for the child and to protect them from physical or psychological harm. The court will appoint a welfare officer who will speak with all the parties involved and produce a report. There will also be a short court hearing. Provided there is no history of any abuse, violence, or neglect, and it is in the best interests of the child, the judge is likely to recommend that contact be allowed between the grandparents and their grandchild.
Types of orders a court may grant
The Family Court is able to issue a number of different orders and a family law solicitor can provide advice about which legal order you should apply for. This will most likely be a child arrangement order but may instead be a special guardianship order, kinship foster care or even adoption.
The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can be impacted by a family breakup, and grandparents can feel ostracised or may be denied contact with their grandchildren. There are a range of options for maintaining relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. Mediation is typically the first option in resolving any disputes, however, the court may also provide specific orders. The primary focus in all cases will be the best interests of the children.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (01904) 217225 or (020) 36332301 or (0161) 3273677 or email [email protected].