Rights of Grandparents?
5 February 2020 by Julia Brewer
Many grandparents play an increasingly important role in the lives of their grandchildren, and are often involved in their weekly care. It is very common for close relationships to exist between grandparents and their grandchildren.
Sometimes, especially through separation of the children’s parents, relationships can become fractured and this can lead to difficulties in maintaining grandparent’s relationships with their grandchildren.
If you are a grandparent who feels as if you are being excluded from your grandchild’s life then there are options available to you.
If you have a good relationship with your son or daughter (parent of the child) then it may be possible for you to spend time your grandchild during the time that they are with that parent.
If, however, for any reason the relationship between the child and the parent has broken down, or a grandparent has a falling out with their own child, then the grandparent may wish to take action in their own right.
The first step is to try to open dialogue with the person preventing that relationship. This, of course, will be dependent on the grandparent’s individual relationship with that particular parent of the child.
If this is not possible, then that grandparent could seek legal advice and ask for the lines of communication to be opened between their solicitor and the particular parent.
Another really good option is mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process. A trained family mediator, who is independent, will work with all parties to see if an agreement can be reached.
Usually, mediation takes place with all parties in the same room with the mediator. In some cases, known as shuttle mediation, mediation takes place with the parties separated in different rooms and the mediator moves between the two rooms, to try to assist the parties in reaching agreement.
Mediation usually starts with each party attending an initial mediation session on their own with the mediator who will talk to the person about what the issues are and assess whether or not mediation is suitable in that particular case.
There will be some cases where a mediator will say that it is not suitable for mediation, such as where there are issues of domestic abuse or social services involvement.
If these options have not worked then a grandparent can consider an application to the court.
An application to the court does require that the grandparent has at least attended an initial mediation session and obtained a certificate from the mediator to attach to their application.
So how does a court treat a grandparent’s application?
The presumption is that it is in the child’s best interests for there to be involvement between a parent and their child. The same presumption does not currently exist with a grandparent.
A parent or a person with parental responsibility can apply to court for an order.
People without parental responsibility (therefore most grandparents) are not automatically entitled to apply for an order to spend time with a child, known as a Child Arrangements Order, and therefore an application for permission needs to be made, normally accompanied by the substantive application.
What do the court look at when deciding whether to grant permission?
The court will consider
- Firstly, the nature of the application,
- Secondly, the connection between the applicant and the child,
- Thirdly, whether there is any risk of disruption to that child’s life to such an extent that they would be harmed by the application proceeding.
If the court grants permission for grandparents to proceed with their application then the courts will consider what is in that particular child’s best interests. This requires the court to balance up a number of factors set out in the ‘welfare checklist.’
The welfare checklist is:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of the child’s age and understanding);
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect on the child of any change in his/her circumstances;
- The child’s age, sex, background, and any other characteristic which the Court considers relevant;
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- The capability of each parent ( and of any other relevant person) of meeting the child’s needs;
- The range of powers available to the court under the Children Act in the proceedings in question.
An application to the court should only be made in circumstances where this is really necessary, as it runs the risk of creating further bitterness. If it is possible to resolve matters amicably before a court application becomes necessary then my experience is that this is a much better option that is likely to lead to much better outcomes in the future. An agreed solution is more likely to work without difficulties than a decision imposed on reluctant parties by a court. We have an experienced team of family lawyers who are able to advise and assist with a range of Family Law matters – contact Fisher Jones Greenwood by calling 01206 700113 or email [email protected].