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Grandparents' Rights - Sorting Fact from Fiction

View profile for Helena Middleton
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Please note that this article does not cover situations where there has been Local Authority involvement.

The fallout from a divorce or separation can have far reaching consequences. Hostility between separating couples can often have a knock-on effect on their relationships with their former in-laws. As a result, grandparents can be denied the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren. So, what can grandparents do in this situation?

If grandparents are not able to come to an arrangement with the parents through amicable discussions or mediation, they can turn to the court for assistance. Whilst grandparents do not have an automatic right to spend time with their grandchildren, the court does appreciate the valuable role grandparents can play in their grandchildren’s lives.

Stage 1 – the application for permission

The court is able to make a child arrangements order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 which will set out who the child spends time with and how much time he or she spends with them. However, save in limited circumstances, grandparents will first need to apply to the court for permission (also known as ‘leave’) to make this application. This is so the court is able to filter out potentially vexatious applications as soon as possible (and which may upset an already delicate situation).

In deciding whether to grant permission, the court will consider the following:

  1. The nature and merits of the proposed application;
  2. The grandparent’s connection with the child; and
  3. The risk of the proposed application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that he or she would be harmed by it.

In the context of the proposed application, “harm” means ill-treatment or damage to the child’s health (both physical and mental) and development (including physical and emotional development).

Stage 2 – application for a child arrangements order

If the grandparent(s) are given permission by the court to make an application for a child arrangements order, the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration. The court will consider the grandparent’s connection with the child, including both the blood/family connection and the actual relationship between the grandparents and the child.

There is no presumption that contact with a grandparent is in the child’s best interests, but the court does recognise the importance of children spending time with their grandparents. Where the grandparent already has a meaningful and important relationship with the child, the court will give greater weight to maintaining this relationship.

Practical Tips

If you are being cut out from your grandchild’s life, the first step is to discuss this openly with the parents. Reassuring them of the valuable role you play in your grandchild’s life and the practical help you can offer (for example, with childcare) may help to ward off unnecessary court proceedings.

If you are unable to reach an agreement with your grandchild’s parents, mediation or negotiations through solicitors can help you come to an arrangement. If court proceedings become necessary, you should make sure that you remain impartial in any disputes between your grandchild’s parents. The child’s best interests are always the court’s top priority and it will not look favourably on a grandparent who appears to take sides or who is hostile towards the parent who is the child’s primary carer.

If you need advice on what you can do to establish contact with your grandchildren, our team of specialist family lawyers can assist. Do not hesitate to contact us at mail@burgessmee.com or on 0203 824 9950.

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