Grandparents I speak to are often shocked to learn that in English law grandparents have no automatic rights to see or have contact with their grandchildren. If a parent is refused contact to their child by the other parent then they are entitled automatically to apply to the Court for contact to be considered. They do this by applying for what is now known as a child arrangements order. However, should a grandparent find themselves on bad terms with their child or their child’s ex-spouse or partner and they are refused contact, the law is different. They cannot directly apply for a child arrangements order. Instead they must first of all apply to the Court for ‘leave’ or permission to apply for a child arrangements order.
This means that before the first hearing takes place to move the case forward to consider whether contact should take place between the grandparent and the child, the Court first of all have to consider whether or not the grandparent’s application has sufficient merit to move forward.
The Court will, as ever, have the welfare and best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.
In some cases the Court is willing to grant the application for permission for the grandparent to apply for contact immediately after reading the case papers. In other cases (subject to the reason for the need to make the application) the Court will give the parents of the child a chance to come to Court to have their say before the Court decide whether or not to grant the application.
If permission is granted, the Court will then consider the application in the same manner as an application made by a parent and the same procedure is followed.
Of course, Court action to try to obtain contact is very much viewed as a last resort and a good family lawyer will do all they can to avoid Court action if at all possible. It must always be borne in mind that not only does Court action cost, it is also very time consuming and an incredibly upsetting and emotional process for both sides.
Steps a grandparent can take
In the first instance if I am instructed by grandparents I always recommend that we write to the parents of the child and see whether there is any way that we can resolve the situation amicably between the parties, if this does not prove possible, I then refer the client to mediation. Only if these avenues are exhausted and an agreement cannot be reached would I recommend going through the court process.
Maybe the law needs to be reviewed to allow grandparents more rights in relation to their grandchildren. You’d certainly think that in many instances maintaining contact with their grandparents would be in the best interests of the child, which after all is what the law is focused on. However, knowing how slowly family law is changed in the UK, I’m not holding my breath!
If you having difficulty getting or maintaining contact with your grandchildren it’s important that you take advice before taking action. That’s why we offer a free initial chat with a lawyer so that you can get all the facts about the legal issues, rather than relying on myth or old fashioned notions based on historical examples.
Divorce & family lawyer Birmingham