Grandparents are often the forgotten parties in family law disputes. Grandparents can provide enormous love, support and stability to children, especially if they are experiencing problems at home.
However, when it comes to divorce, family disputes or care matters, grandparents are often left out in the cold. Animosity between parents can result in grandparents being pushed out by the main caregiver, unable to even contact their grandchildren by phone.
Family law in England and Wales does provide methods which grandparents can utilise to regain contact with their grandchildren. They can also apply for Special Guardianship, should the parents be unable to look after the children and/or social workers become involved with the family.
This article aims to provide brief answers to common questions asked by grandparents regarding legal matters relating to their grandchildren.
My son/daughter is going through a divorce and I am being prevented from seeing or even telephoning my grandchildren.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common scenario. Parents split up, and the custodial parent prevents their ex-spouse’s parents from contacting their grandchildren. Sometimes this is done to punish their ex, and in some situations, the grandparents have offended the custodial parent in the past, and now they do not want them having anything to do with the children.
Grandparents have no automatic right in law to demand contact with their grandchildren. If you are being prevented from seeing your grandchildren, the best approach initially is always an informal one. However, if you have tried speaking to your son or daughter in law and they refuse to change their stance, you can seek the advice of a family law solicitor.
A solicitor will attempt to resolve the contact issue using an alternative dispute resolution method, such as round-table negotiation. However, participation by the parents is entirely voluntary; if they choose not to participate in negotiations, your solicitor cannot force them to attend. However, should the matter proceed to court, non-attendance in negotiation or mediation may be viewed in an unfavourable light by the presiding judge, something your family law solicitor will point out to the parent refusing to allow contact.
If the parent refuses to attend negotiations, the next step is to apply for a Child Arrangement Order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. In most situations, a grandparent will need to apply to the court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangement Order. When deciding whether to grant leave, the court will consider:
The nature of the proposed application for the Order;
The applicant’s connection with the child;
Any risk there might be of that proposed application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that it would harm them.
If leave is granted, it is likely you will need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This takes place with a trained mediator who will explain to you what mediation is and how it can assist you with resolving your dispute. If you and the parent believe mediation could assist you in resolving your dispute, the mediator will book another session with you. If one of you do not wish to proceed with mediation, you can apply to the court for a Child Arrangement Order hearing to take place.
When attending court proceedings, it is important to remember the judge is primarily focused on how having contact with you benefits the child’s welfare. The wishes of the adults involved in the proceedings will always come second to the welfare of the child.
Fortunately, very few cases reach the Family Court. Most matters concerning grandparents access to their grandchildren are resolved with negotiation.
My son/daughter cannot take care of my grandchild – can they come and live with me?
If your grandchild’s parents are struggling to take care of your grandchild and social services have become involved 0with the family, you may be able to apply for a Special Guardianship order, allowing you to take over the day to day care of the child.
You may wish to apply for such an order for various reasons. Perhaps your son or daughter and their partner are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or there is evidence of child abuse. Whatever the reason, a family law solicitor can support you with applying to bring your grandchild to live with you.
A Special Guardianship Order has been described as a halfway house between a resident order and an adoption order. It confers parental responsibility on the holder, meaning they can make decisions about the welfare of the child, including matters relating to health and schooling.
Grandparents can also apply to adopt their grandchildren in some circumstances. Obviously, this is a very important step and it is therefore imperative you seek advice from a solicitor and adoption support services if you are considering this option.
Grandparents play a pivotal role in their grandchildren’s lives. Therefore, if you are being denied the opportunity to spend time with your grandchildren, or feel they need more stability than is being provided in their home environment, seek legal advice as to how best to proceed.
Rosie Bracher is specialist family law solicitors based in Barnstaple. We have the knowledge and expertise to advise you on all matters involving children and family law. Please contact our office on 01271 314 904 and arrange to speak to one of our team.