Most grandparents have a close and loving relationship with their grandchildren and play a key role in their upbringing. However, when relationships break down, an unfortunate consequence can be children being deprived of time with their grandparents.
If you are in this position as grandparents, many practical and pragmatic steps can be taken to preserve your relationship with your grandchildren. The first step is to try to reach an agreement with the parents. You could write to them explaining your wishes to maintain contact with the children and if appropriate, that you can offer practical help in their upbringing and childcare responsibilities. It is very important that you do not become involved in any dispute between the parents and try to remain as neutral as possible.
If it is not possible to reach an agreement through direct discussion, another option for you to consider is mediation to see if an agreement can be reached with the help of an impartial mediator or failing that to instruct a solicitor to communicate on your behalf and open a constructive dialogue with the parents.
If agreement still cannot be reached, there is provision for grandparents to make an application to court. Unlike parents, grandparents have no automatic legal right to see their grandchildren. However, grandparents can ask for permission to apply for a court order. It is very rare for a court to refuse permission to make an application. The court will consider the nature of the application, your connection to the grandchild and any risk of the application disrupting the child’s life.
If permission is granted, a grandparent can then apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order setting out the time they spend with their grandchildren. The Court will consider all of the child’s circumstances and in every case the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration.
Family courts do recognise the invaluable role that grandparents have to play in their grandchildren’s lives and the court will look at how often the grandparents used to see the child, on what occasions and how they spent this time together. The courts have demonstrated on a number of occasions that they are willing to maintain the status quo, that is, to maintain stability in a child’s life and to make sure that there is as little disruption as possible.
There have been calls on the government to enshrine the right for grandparents to see their grandchildren following a separation by amending the law. This would include a child's right to have a close relationship with members of their extended family. For now, automatic rights only extend to the parents but the balance is definitely tipping in the direction of grandparents’ rights.
If you are seeking contact with your grandchildren or need further advice our specialist family law team will be able to advise you. Please do not hesitate to make an appointment to meet a member of our family law team at our offices in Fleet, Farnborough and Ash Vale.
You can contact our family law team on 01252 316316