Grandparents – what are your rights?
Even if you chose not to tune into the broadcast, it has been hard to avoid the media uproar that ensued following the recent Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan; the Duke & Duchess of Sussex.
Whilst its easy for us viewers to become absorbed in the dramatic allegations, what struck me was that at the heart of this furore there stands a real family clearly in the midst of genuine and distressing dispute.
I, like many others, was surprised when Prince Harry claimed that his father Prince Charles ‘had not been returning his calls’. My thoughts were however directed towards the grandchildren; Archie and his soon to be little sister. What impact will this dispute have on their relationship with their extended family? How do Prince Charles and Camilla feel about being distanced (both physically and emotionally) from their young grandchildren?
In today’s world, with busy working parents and ever increasing childcare costs, grandparents are more prominent than ever in their grandchildren’s lives. But what exactly happens when family members are in dispute. How does this impact relationships and, ultimately, what rights do grandparents have in the eyes of the law when it comes to contact with their grandchildren?
Well, in short, grandparents do not have an automatic right to see their grandchildren. The court is, however, increasingly acknowledging the important role grandparent’s play and will consider, on a case by case basis, applications which are made by grandparents in an effort to see their grandchildren.
Currently, only those with parental responsibility (i.e. parents or legal guardians) can apply directly to the court for a contact order for children. Grandparents, on the other hand, must seek the permission of the court to apply for such an order. Whilst the need for permission adds an extra hurdle to be crossed, the good news is that it is becoming increasingly rare for the courts to refuse an application made by a grandparent, unless there is evidence of violence or abuse.
When considering an application, the courts will consider the relationship the grandparent has with the child, the frequency of previous contact and what impact (positive or negative) ongoing contact will have on the child’s wellbeing.
How can I see my grandchildren?
If you find yourself in the situation where you are struggling to access your grandchildren, before seeking legal action, you should first try to speak with the children’s parents/guardian to discuss whether a compromise agreement can be reached. If this is not possible, you may need to start thinking about legal options and the involvement of family professionals.
You should consider attending mediation with a qualified family mediator; you can either do this yourself or can ask the child’s guardian to go with you. Mediation is a brilliant space to try and discuss issues openly and formulate a plan however, if this too is not successful, you will need to apply to the court for a child arrangements order.
In order to apply for a child arrangements order you will need to complete a C100 form in which, as discussed above, you must seek the court’s permission to apply. You must explain your reasons for making the application, but do remember that the narrative should be wholly child focused, rather than a statement about why you want to see the child. Keep asking yourself ‘what does my grandchild gain from spending time with me?’
Following receipt of the C100 form, and the granting of permission, if one or both parents raises a formal objection a hearing date will be set. Remember that the family court is not the criminal court; no one is looking to place blame on anyone and the hearing will be a constructive forum where the main aim is to consider the best interests of the child.
During the court hearing, you (and anyone with parental responsibility) will be asked to give evidence. Within your evidence you should focus on explaining the role that you have in your grandchild’s life and how they will be negatively impacted by not having you around. Again, this evidence should be from a purely child focused standpoint.
The court will consider carefully the relationship the you have with the child and will make a decision about how and when to order contact to ensure that your important relationship is maintained.
The court will be less likely to make an immediate order in a situation whereby a grandparent has been an infrequent presence in a child’s life. A stepping stone order however could be put in place to ensure appropriate integration into one another’s lives.
What if my grandchildren’s guardians break the child arrangement order?
If you have successfully obtained a child arrangements order and the children’s guardian does not adhere to its terms, you can return the matter to the court and request that the order is enforced.
Getting help with seeing your grandchildren
We at Cripps Pemberton Greenish understand that family breakdowns can be emotional and difficult for everyone involved. We also recognise that, against the backdrop of divorce and parental disputes, the emotional distress caused by a loss of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is often overlooked.
If you are a grandparent and are experiencing difficulty maintaining contact with your grandchildren then we can help you. We are always happy to have a free initial, no obligation, chat. If you would like to discuss your circumstances further, please contact Mairi Woodward on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44(0)1892 489 572.