Grandparents can often be the forgotten victims of the breakdown of their children’s marriage or long-term relationship.Often they lose contact with children involved as the estranged partner moves to a new area or strained relationships with ex-partners make contact difficult. This denies both the grandparent the joy of watching the children grow up and means children miss out on the valuable nurturing that older generations can bring to their development.
The first step for the grandparents who fear losing contact should be to approach the child’s mother or father and explain that, no matter what the problems are between the parents, you as a grandparent do not intend to take sides but that you only wish to maintain contact with your grandchildren.
However, it is frequently the case that the relationship has broken down to such an extent that this is not practical or even possible.
In those circumstances mediation is an option whereby an independent mediator will try and help you reach an agreement with the parents. For this to take place, both sides have to agree to mediate and it may not be right for all. Woolley & Co are able to make referrals to mediation providers and will be glad to help you with this.
If no progress can be made through these routes then it is possible to make an application to the court. Family courts do recognise and will promote the invaluable role that grandparents have to play in their grandchildren’s lives. Unlike parents, a grandparent does not have an automatic right to apply for a contact order and will have to apply for leave to make that application. In order to be successful the grandparent must show that they have a meaningful and important connection with the child.
If that hurdle is successfully overcome then your application for contact will be considered. Frequently this will involve the appointment of a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer to look at any welfare issues that need to be considered and to prepare a report to aid the court in coming to a decision.
If the report is favourable it is often very strongly persuasive to the parent with care but if they still will not agree then there will be a full hearing with both sides giving evidence and the court making a decision on the basis of what they feel to be in the child’s best interest. You will need to convince the court that your relationship with the grandchild significantly benefits their lives.
If an order is made the court’s powers to enforce such orders have recently been increased in such a way that makes it extremely difficult for parents to ignore them. They are therefore a very powerful way to ensure that grandparents can maintain a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with their grandchildren.
It is important that when there are problems, legal advice is sought about the options available. Early advice will allow you to understand your options and to act in an appropriate way so as not to unsettle what could be a very delicate situation.
Woolley and Co have specialist family lawyers with extensive experience of acting in these types of matters and we have helped many grandparents successfully achieve and maintain contact with their grandchildren. Sometimes when relations have broken down a carefully drafted letter from your solicitor which tries to defuse the tension of the situation and puts across why you feel contact is so important for you and your grandchildren may be all that’s needed.
We can provide an initial opinion on the best way forward or draft a letter for a fixed fee. We can also help with issues relating to applying for contact with grandchildren who are in care, brining up your grandchildren, applying for residence orders and special guardianship orders.
For advice on grandparent’s rights book an appointment here.