THE end of a relationship or separation can be difficult for families, especially where there is a high level of conflict that makes communication between parents difficult. Grandparents may also feel worried that they may lose contact with their grandchildren and feel left out of discussions about future arrangements.
Q What rights do grandparents have with regards to grandchildren?
A Grandparents have no legal right to spend time with their grandchildren but can apply to the family court for a Child Arrangements Order. This is similar to the type of application a parent would need to make for the court to decide who a child resides with when they have contact with the other parent.
Q How do I make an application to the court?
A The first step for a grandparent is to ask the court for permission to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order. This is necessary, as they do not have ‘parental responsibility’ which arises automatically to the mother on a child’s birth, and to the father when registered on the birth certificate. Parental Responsibility is important as it gives a person the right to make or be consulted on important decisions affecting a child and in some circumstances can be awarded to grandparents.
Permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order would usually be given where there is a good reason for the application to be made. A judge would then consider whether direct or indirect contact would be in the best interests of a child, or children, by taking into account a welfare checklist.
Where the child or children are older, this may include taking their wishes and feelings into account as the new rules introduced in April places the child and their wishes at the centre of proceedings, where it is appropriate to do so. An order could make provision for the grandparents to have regular contact with their grandchildren, or allow letters and presents to be sent if this is not appropriate in the circumstances.
Q What if I think my grandchildren should live with me?
A The court also has power to consider where a child lives. Where the parent or parents are struggling to cope with family arrangements, the court can also decide with whom the child lives. Where there are care proceedings in place, the court would also consider grandparents or other family members as potential carers to avoid the child being removed to foster carers.
At all times, the court would consider what is best for the child or children, and encourage mediation so that parties can think about other options to resolve their differences. Grandparents would therefore be first advised to approach a mediation service or mediator to find out whether an agreement can be reached without the need for court proceedings.
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