Grandparents are playing an ever-increasing role in the lives of their grandchildren, often providing free childcare to enable the parents to go out to work.
Most of these relationships run smoothly to everyone’s benefit but occasionally, problems arise that break that family bond. The most likely cause is an acrimonious divorce or separation, in which children can become ‘weapons’ in the disputes between parents.
This can spill over and affect grandparents.
Unfortunately, the law provides no automatic right to see your grandchildren if one or both of the parents deny access. However, there are several steps you can take, including legal action to help you gain contact.
The courts always put the interests of the child first. Fortunately, that includes the assumption that contact with grandparents is generally a positive influence. It means that although there are no guarantees, your chances of regaining contact are good if you follow the correct procedure.
Communicate with the parents
Before you consider legal action, make sure you’ve done everything possible to talk to the parent who is being obstructive. Try to explain that, whatever disagreements there may be between the parents, contact with grandparents is good for children. Reassure them that you won’t take sides and that all you want is what’s best for the children.
You could also explain that you could be helpful in looking after the children, such as by babysitting, picking them up from school or looking after them during the long holidays so the parent can go to work.
Such offers of help may be especially welcome in cases where one parent has died, leaving the other to bring up the children alone.
Remember, disputes often arise in the heat of the moment, damaging relationships in a way that benefits no one. However, even the most intransigent parents can come around if given time, especially when they realise that bringing up children on their own is very difficult and that help from Nana and Grandad could be very helpful at times.
If the parents won’t speak to you, or you don’t feel able to put your case well enough, you could try mediation. A mediator, such as your solicitor, can help to bring both sides together and explain how contact between grandparents and grandchildren is beneficial for all concerned.
They will organise a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM), which helps families overcome disagreements following divorce or separation, including those involving children.
Of course, you can’t force the parents to take part if they don’t want to so if mediation isn’t possible, the next step is to take legal action.
Apply for a court order
You can’t automatically apply for a court order granting you access to your grandchildren, but you can ask the court for permission to apply. When you do, you will first have to show that you have tried to deal with the matter through mediation, unless you’re exempt because of exceptional circumstances such as the threat of domestic violence being involved.
You will then have to fill in a C100 Application Form. Your solicitor can help you with this.
If your application is successful, the court will consider your case and move towards a formal hearing if necessary, although many cases are dealt with successfully without having to go that far.
The court’s main concern will be for the interests of the child and a wide range of factors will be considered before access is granted. However, as contact with grandparents is generally considered to be positive, most applications are successful.
If an order is granted, it will set out the terms on which contact should take place, how often and for how long, and whether it should be face to face with the children or by phone, letters etc.
Once contact starts to take place, it’s important to use every opportunity to develop your relationship with the parent, reassuring them that you are not trying to interfere, take sides or usurp their role in any way.
If the parent can be reassured that you are there to help them and the children, they are more likely to be cooperative. This not only makes the general family atmosphere more pleasant for all concerned, it also reduces the risk of the parent looking for reasons to overturn the contact order in the future.
If you would like more information or advice about the issues raised in this article, or any aspect of family law please contact our expert legal team on 0208 004 0065, by email at email@example.com or using the form below.
The contents of this article is general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should obtain independent expert advice from qualified solicitors such as those within our firm.