The rights of grandparents to see their grandchildren
Spending time with the grandchildren is one of the most rewarding experiences grandparents can have.
Grandparents have always played a significant role in their grandchildren’s lives and modern society is no different. Indeed, the busy lives of parents can often mean grandparents are relied upon heavily, and regularly, to provide childcare. Add to this the increasing number of multi-generational households in the UK, which has led to many children being accustomed to living with their grandparents, and it’s not difficult to see why the bond between grandparents and grandchildren can be strong.
So, when couples separate, especially if the relationship breakdown has been acrimonious, it can make things extremely difficult for grandparents to maintain contact with their grandchildren. In fact, not having that contact has been described by some grandparents as a “living bereavement”.
But it doesn’t just apply to circumstances where the parents split up. If there’s been a fall out between parents and grandparents, the result could be that the grandparents are left unable to have contact with their grandchildren.
What happens if one or both parents stop the grandparents from seeing the children?
If the situation has degenerated to such a point that the grandparents are unable to see their grandchildren, they can apply to the family Court to request contact. It’s a hugely emotional and stressful decision to have to make and not one to be taken lightly as it not only puts pressure on the grandparents, but the effects may also be felt by the grandchildren, potentially making family relations even worse.
What’s the process?
For the majority of cases, unless there‘s a specific reason for an exemption, the first step is to see if the matter can be settled amicably. This will involve referring the case to an independent Family Mediator who will try to find a way for all involved to agree on an arrangement.
If the situation can’t be resolved through mediation, the next step is for the grandparents to seek the permission of the Court to proceed with an application for contact. This is called a Child Arrangements Order. If the request is opposed by one or both parents, the Court will need to make a decision on whether to uphold it or not. To do this it will consider the circumstances of the case. This involves the reason why the application has been brought in the first place, the strength of the applicant’s connection to the child and if there’s a risk of the application disrupting the child’s life.
What happens after that?
If the Court grants permission for the grandparents to pursue their application for a Child Arrangements Order, the grandchildren’s welfare will always be front and centre of its consideration. Section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989 sets out the factors the Court will take in to account when considering the application and whether to make an Order.
There’s also the “no Order principle”. This means that the Court won’t make an Order in respect of the children unless it specifically considers that making an Order would be better for the children than making no Order at all.
If the parents raise concerns about the safety and welfare of the children if they have contact with their grandparents, the Court may order that their worries be fully investigated. This would be dealt with by a report which will make recommendations on the matter.
If you need help establishing contact with your grandchildren, Russell & Russell’s family law team has solicitors who are specifically trained to deal with these types of cases in a sensitive and constructive way.