Imagine a situation where both parents work and care is divided between both maternal and paternal grandparents. In an ideal world this arrangement would continue after a divorce or separation, but frequently all goodwill breaks down leaving children having to cope with new arrangements and often the loss or deterioration of a relationship with one or both sets of grandparents.
I often get asked ‘but what about my rights?’ by caring grandparents who are desperate to continue a relationship with their grandchildren. The sad, depressing, answer is that grandparents have no automatic right to make an application to the Court for contact or residence, unless the children have been living with them for at least 3 years.
Grandparents have an additional hurdle, of having to first apply to Court for‘leave’ to make an application. This application is sent to both parents, who have the opportunity to oppose, or agree to leave being granted. Only if the Judge is satisfied that it is in the child’s best interest for the application to be granted will the matter move to the next stage when a Judge will consider what, if any contact, there should be between grandparent and grandchild. That contact has to be viewed in context as often the children will be spending time with the ‘other’ parent. Frequently, the Court has to juggle complex arrangements to try to accommodate all members of the family (and the child’s school or social commitments).
The Government applauds grandparents for the vital role they play in shaping a child’s future, providing unpaid childcare so parents can return to work. However, since 1989 successive governments have so far refused to amend the law to provide grandparents the automatic right to make an application to the Court to preserve their unique relationship with grandchildren. Following the Family Justice Review, there has been a recommendation that Grandparents should be included in ‘parenting agreements’ setting out the time that children of separated parents should spend not only with Mum and Dad, but Granny and Grandpa too.
Whilst the judicial system may not be quick to help grandparents, I have used other dispute resolution such as mediation, collaborative law and family conferencing to assist in breaking the deadlock between family members and re-establishing contact.