Grandparents' Rights

Christmas is about spending time with family, watching children open their presents with big smiles on their faces and Granny and Grandpa falling asleep after one glass of Sherry, exhausted by the days excitement.

However, Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year along with Summer Holidays. This may be because families are forced to spend long periods of time together and with the influence of alcohol this can be a recipe for disaster.

Studies have shown that January 8this the busiest day of the year for divorce lawyers when up to one in five couples will enquire about divorce after the pressures of Christmas. The enforced intimacy of Christmas, coupled with the start of a new year is thought to be in the main trigger.

The breakdown of a marriage or long-term partnership can be upsetting for all concerned and when we think of the people involved, parents and children are always the ones who spring to mind. Little thought is given to Grandparents.

The Facts

There are 13.5 million Grandparents in the UK. They make up the vast contribution to family life and nowadays, when most parents work, Grandparents are probably more involved with the care of their Grandchildren then ever before. 

82% of children receive some care from their Grandparents and 60% of child care is provided by Grandparents, saving parents an average of around £2,685 a year (a total of £6.8billion nationally) Nearly 5 million Grandparents spend the equivalent of three days a week caring for their Grandchildren and nearly half of Grandparents make financial contributions towards expensive items for the family. 

On Boxing Day a well-known tabloid newspaper reported that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of Grandparents helping to pay for their Grandchildren to be educated privately. 

If all this is true, why do we have a family legal system that recognises none of it and gives Grandparents no automatic legal right to have contact with their grandchildren? It is a sad fact that this year 150,000 children will be affected by the break-up of their parents. Even in cases where the split is handled as amicably as possible, it is a traumatic experience for the children. In cases where the break-up is difficult, contact can be big issue, with the absent parent having limited contact with their children and the Grandparents on that side of the family having no contact at all. 

Given the increased role played by Grandparents these days, withdrawal of contact can be devastating for both the children and Grandparents, who can go from spending house together to no contact at all.

Grandparents’ Rights

 Bad news, there is no such thing as a specific set of “Grandparents’ Rights.”

The law gives no automatic right for Grandparents to see their grandchildren. This is not to say that Grandparents cannot apply to the Court to see their grandchildren, but the process can be difficult and expensive with no guarantee of success and thereby limited to Grandparents who are lucky enough to have the financial means to pursue an application through the Courts. As a result of that situation, it is estimated that 1 million children are denied contact with their Grandparents.

We can all accept that sometimes it would be inappropriate and not in the best interests of the child to see their Grandparents, but there should be a presumption that, all things being equal, Grandparents should be able to see their Grandchildren. When the well being of children is being considered there is a good argument for saying that the role of Grandparents should be part of the process. At a time when parents may be struggling with the stress of a break-up and difficulties in their relationship, Grandparents can play an important stabilising role for the children: visits to their Grandparents’ home can feel normal and safe when the rest of the world seems to be turned upside-down.

What should a Grandparent do if they fell they might lose contact with their Grandchildren?

The first step is to approach the child’s mother or father and explain that no matter what the problems are between the parents you as a Grandparent do not intent to take sides but that you only wish to maintain contact with your Grandchildren.

If that is not successful you can try mediation. For this to take place both sides have to agree to mediate. 

The final resort is an application to the Court. Here Grandparents are at a disadvantage compared to parents since there is no presumption that Grandchildren should see their Grandparents and it is necessary to seek permission of the court to make an application. Either parent may object to the application in which case the Court may be persuaded, usually by way of a hearing, that you had a meaningful and ongoing relationship with your Grandchild and that it is in his or her best interest for your relationship with him or her to continue. If that hurdle is surmounted your application will then be considered on it’s merits based upon whether it is in the best interests of the child to spend some time with you.

 Advice

It is important for a Grandparent to seek legal advice early on, when the problems arise. This will allow them to understand the options and act in an appropriate way so as not to unsettle what could be a very delicate situation.

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