The breakdown of a relationship can be stressful for a child and his or her parents. Equally, it can be deeply distressing for grandparents who may be denied contact with their grandchildren with whom they have a close relationship.
Continuing contact between children and their grandparents at such a difficult time can provide a consistent and loving relationship at a time when a child needs it most.
If grandparents fear that they may lose contact with their grandchildren, they should first try and explain to the child’s mother or father that they are not on anybody’s side other than the child’s. Often arrangements for regular contact can be made by agreement.
If there is a real dispute or difficulties in getting contact, then it is important for the grandparents to move quickly so that the relationship between the grandparents and the child is not broken. This is particularly important if the child is very young.
In some cases, where it is difficult to communicate with the mother or father, an independent mediator may be able to help you reach an agreement.
If this is not possible, then the only option is to apply to the court for a Contact Order.
Grandparents have no automatic right to contact with their grandchildren. Before they make an application for a Contact Order, they have to apply for permission. When a court considers whether to grant permission, it has to look at a number of factors, including the grandparents’ connection with the child and the nature of the application that is being made. In a case where the grandparents have been seeing the child regularly and already have a relationship with the child, then there is usually little difficulty in getting over that first hurdle. The two major political parties have recently proposed that this first hurdle should be abolished.
If the parent caring for the child objects to contact, then it is for the court to decide what contact would be in the child’s best interests. The court see it as the child’s right to see his or her grandparents, rather than the grandparents’ rights to see their grandchild. Frequently the court will order a report from a CAFCASS officer (Child And Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to investigate the circumstances and make recommendations to the court. If an order of the court is not complied with, then the court has a number of sanctions it can apply to the parent to ensure that contact takes place.
Grandparents’ rights are increasingly being recognised by the courts. In the recent Supreme Court case of Re: B, the Court decided that no special preference should be given to a parent above a grandparent when it comes to deciding what is in the child’s best interests and where they should live.
Increasingly, grandparents are playing a major role in the lives of their grandchildren. On occasions when parents cannot care for their children, grandparents often step forward to take over the role of full-time carers. This is increasingly common in cases involving the local authority in care proceedings. In these circumstances, grandparents can apply for a number of orders, including Residence Orders and, in cases where greater security is required, Special Guardianship Orders.
It is important that where grandparents are in danger of losing contact with the child, they take expert advice as soon as possible.
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