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The other morning, as I sat in bed with my 9 month old daughter having a cuddle before I prepared to get up for work, I watched as BBC Breakfast ran a report covering grandparents rights to see their grandchildren.
Since this was broadcast a quick glance at Twitter shows there have been a number of tweets on the subject and so I thought it may be helpful to summarise the current position for grandparents.
Do grandparents have “rights” to see their grandchildren?
Where one parent is denied “access” to a child by another parent then they can apply for a Child Arrangements Order to regulate how the child’s time is spent.
However, grandparents are not automatically entitled to apply for a Child Arrangements Order. Before a grandparent can apply for a Child Arrangements Order they must obtain the permission of the Court.
When deciding whether the grandparent should be given permission the Court will have particular regard to:
1. The nature of the proposed application that the grandparent wishes to make.
2. Their connection with the child.
3. Any risk there might be of the proposed application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that it would harm the child.
However, the above list is not exhaustive and the court may take into account any other factors they deem relevant.
How does this effect a grandparents ability to see their grandchildren?
In real terms the requirement that grandparents obtain the permission of the Court is designed as a filter to protect the child and their family against unnecessary interference. The fainter the grandparent’s connection to the child the more difficult it is likely to be to get permission to make an application.
So where does that leave a grandparent?
Inevitably, any application involving children is always fraught with emotion and each situation is different.
Speaking personally, both my parents and my wife’s parents provide invaluable care for my daughter and I am sure they will do so going forwards. Does my experience change my view? No. I think grandparents should have to ask the court if they can take that step of applying for a Child Arrangements Order. As I said, it acts as a filter. It’s “judicial gatekeeping” to make sure a potentially long, emotional and possibly costly process should be embarked upon.
You might disagree with me. In my firm we see the damage that court applications involving children cause to families. If the applications without merit can be kicked into the long grass before they start then that is likely to be better for the child. The law does not impose an absolute bar on grandparents making an application; it just requires it to be assessed first.
Quite often there are historic family issues which are at the root of the issue. Lawyers and court’s can’t help with these issues. Families need to help themselves and need to want to do so.
At Family Law Partners, we are firmly of the view it is preferable for disputes to be resolved without going to Court at all. Mediation can be a really useful mechanism of helping parties resolving disputes and working towards an agreed outcome. It can lead to practical arrangements which are better suited to the parties, and more importantly the child, than arrangements which are imposed by the Court. Get a Family Consultant involved from an early stage and who knows what the value can be to the family and the child’s welfare (which is what any court process has to focus on).
I’m going to set a Family Consultant we use, Kim Crewe, a challenge. Kim, what value can you bring to a process where grandparents are not seeing their grandchildren, what issues do you see this raises and how can you help the family and most importantly, the child at the centre of the issue?