The Grandparent’s Association have recently reported that up to 1 million grandchildren are denied contact with their grandparents. They also reported that the Association received more than 8,000 calls in 2014 after many lost contact with their grandchildren.
There may be many reasons for why contact has been lost, however, as family lawyers we often come across situations where contact between grandchildren and grandparent’s has been lost due to family conflict due to divorce or separation. Sadly, grandparent’s can feel like piggy in the middle where family conflicts are concerned, they are often drawn into arguments or expected to take sides. Sometimes, this can lead to grandparents not being allowed to see their grandchildren at all.
If a grandparent feels that the conflict may result in them losing contact with their grandchild, it is important to try to remain calm and take a step back. Talk to your child (but not in front of your grandchild) and assure them that whilst you are always there for them, you will not take sides with one parent or the other. It is important that you try to stay neutral, even if you feel that deep inside all you want to do is shout at the parent, after all, name calling or arguing is not going to help the situation and could make matters worse. Try talking to the other parent and make it clear that you do not intend to take sides but you wish to maintain contact with your grandchild.
Do grandparent’s have legal rights?
Sadly, grandparents do not have automatic legal rights to have contact with their grandchildren. However, family courts do recognise the invaluable role they play in their grandchildren’s lives. Unless there is evidence of abuse or violence, it is rare that a family court would deny a grandparent the right to see their grandchild.
Do not rush off to court straight away, it is important to try to resolve conflict out of court and if possible to attend mediation first. If mediation is suitable then it can be a good way to improve communication between parties and help to reduce conflict. However, not all cases are suitable for mediation so if you have tried to talk to the parent and you are still being denied contact you must seek professional legal advice for information on court proceedings.
Only people with parental responsibility can apply for a Child Arrangement Order (Contact Order). This means grandparents can apply to the court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangement Order. It is important for the grandparent to show they have a meaningful connection with their grandchild and that seeing their grandchild would not be harmful to the child’s wellbeing in any way.
If one or both parents raise objections then it is likely you will have to attend a final hearing where a Judge will consider your evidence. This is why seeking legal advice at an early stage is important because a lawyer can help you with your evidence by drafting your witness statement. Sometimes Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officers are involved who will then meet with the parent’s, grandparents and grandchildren. They will then prepare a report for the court to consider as the court’s decision making process. If a court decides that contact is in the child’s best interests, then they will grant a contact order which will be binding upon all parties concerned. A contact order can be for direct contact (face to face), indirect (letters or telephone calls) or supervised (where there is a concern for the child’s safety).
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.
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