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26 July 2013

Grandparents Rights

Following the eagerly awaited birth of royal baby Prince George, media reports have, amongst other things, focused on the roles the grandparents will play.

There have been press reports that the couple plan to ensure that the Middleton family, along with the Royal family, play an active and hands-on role.  In fact it is reported that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, together with their new arrival have now gone to stay with the Duchess’ parents, which supports this theory.

The role that grandparents play can benefit children in many ways.  Grandparents can be great role models and influences, and they can provide a sense of cultural heritage and family history.

Sadly, it is frequently the case that when parents separate, the children of the relationship can lose touch with their grandparents, sometimes for long periods of time.

Losing touch can cause heartache to both the grandchildren and to the grandparents and denies the grandparent the joy of watching their grandchildren grow up.  The children also miss out greatly, particularly as grandparents provide an additional source of affection and comfort for children caught up in an already difficult situation.

The first step for grandparents who fear losing contact should be to approach the children’s mother or father and try and deal with the issue in a positive and non-confrontational way.  Mediation is another possible route to try and resolve the issues.  However, it is frequently the case that the relationship has broken down to such an extent that it is impossible to agree.

If no progress can be made then it is possible to make an application to the court for a contact order, however, this should always be a last resort.

A contact order sets out the type of contact a grandparent may have with the grandchildren and states the frequency of that contact.  For example, the Court may order that the grandparents may have supervised or unsupervised contact at set times or sometimes can only have indirect contact with the grandchildren by letters or email.  The court’s decision obviously depends on the circumstances which are different in every case.

The court’s paramount consideration will always be what is in the children’s best interests and family courts do recognise the invaluable role that grandparents have to play in their grandchildren’s lives.

However, unlike parents, a grandparent does not have an automatic right to apply for a contact order and will have to apply to the court for permission to make that application.  In order to be successful the grandparent must show that they have a meaningful and important connection with the child.  In most cases establishing this is relatively easy as frequently grandparents are already involved in their grandchildren’s lives.

If a contact order is made, the court’s powers to enforce such orders have been increased in such a way that makes it extremely difficult for parents to ignore them.  They are therefore a very powerful way to ensure that grandparents can maintain a meaningful relationship with their grandchildren.

The courts also have the power to grant a residence order or a special guardianship order in favour of grandparents or relatives, should this be in the children’s best interests.

It is important that when there are problems, legal advice is sought early on about the options as this area of law is not entirely straight forward and each case is judged upon its own particular merits.

Please contact our family team for further guidance in this area.