One local law firm explains the forgotten rights to grandparents...
The right of grandparents to see their grandchildren if the parents separate has had a high profile over recent weeks. MPs are proposing a change in the current law to establish a ‘presumption’ that grandparents, uncles and aunts should continue to have contact with their grandchildren, nephews and nieces in the event that the children’s parents split up.
For grandparents who are caught in the middle of a relationship breakdown, it can be very distressing. Knowing your legal position can offer peace of mind and help you approach the situation positively and constructively.
The Current Law
In the event that a child’s parents split up, there is normally a presumption that the child has a right to spend time with both parents. This presumption does not exist for grandparents at the moment. Courts do acknowledge that grandparents often play an important role in children’s lives but no formal protection of the grandparent-grandchild relationship currently exists. This is why MPs want to change the current law.
What Solutions Are Available Now?
Mediation is not just useful for couples going through a separation or divorce, it can also be used by grandparents and parents. A trained mediator will meet with you and your grandchild’s parents and will identify the issues you can’t agree on and help you try to reach agreement.
Mediation can help you make decisions about the future of the family and improve communication between the parties. Mediation is also less stressful, quicker and cheaper than going to court. Any agreement reached can be reviewed and changed to reflect children growing up if all parties agree.
· Court Order
If mediation does not provide a solution, you can apply to the court. As a grandparent you do not have an automatic legal right to contact with your grandchildren. This means you first have to ask the court for permission to apply for a child arrangements order. Legal advice will be useful in this situation.
A child arrangements order can be used to record who the child is to spend time with and the detailed arrangements for those periods. The time that a child spends with an adult is called ‘contact’. A child arrangements order could include provision for overnight stays, indirect contact through letters or cards, direct contact or supervised contact as appropriate. It is important to remember that when a court is considering whether to make a child arrangements order the primary consideration is the welfare of the child.