It is estimated that in the UK, 64% of grandparents with grandchildren under the age of 16 help with childcare1. Grandparents are rightly seen as important to a child’s upbringing and can offer invaluable support to parents, not to mention being a much more affordable alternative to nursery or after-school fees.
Unfortunately, whilst most grandparents are able to enjoy this valuable time with their grandchildren, it is estimated that in the UK one in seven grandparents do not have any contact. This may be for a variety of reasons, including their own dispute with the parents or parents’ own separation.
Here, family law expert Andrew Foulds shares his advice for absentee grandparents on their legal rights and what to do if you are being blocked from seeing a grandchild.
What are the legal rights of grandparents?
Despite previous requests to change the law, Grandparents in England and Wales do not presently have an automatic right to see their grandchildren. This is limited to only those only with parental responsibility, which includes the mother and, in the majority of cases, father too.
Because there is no automatic right, grandparents in most circumstances will require the Court’s permission before being able to apply to Court to see their grandchildren. Thankfully, it is usually accepted that grandparents should be entitled to pursue a contact application, based on the close nature of their relationship and connection with the child. The onus would, however, remain on the grandparents to justify contact taking place.
What to do if you are being blocked from seeing your grandchildren
If a grandparent is being prevented from seeing their grandchild, it is advisable to initially try to speak with the parents and establish the reasons for this. Try to discuss the issues amicably and focus on the children themselves who no doubt would wish to see their grandparents.
Should this not work, parties should attempt to agree using methods of ‘Non-Court Dispute Resolution’. This can take on various forms including Mediation with a Family Mediator, solicitor correspondence or even an around the table meeting with the parents, grandparents and solicitors present. Failing all else, the grandparents can apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order, which would ultimately determine whether contact should take place.
Absentee grandparents – legal considerations?
Once permission from the Court is obtained to make the application, applications issued by grandparents are considered in much the same way as any other contact applications brought by a parent. Courts must bear in mind the Welfare Checklist which emphasises the Court’s key consideration when assessing a contact application, this includes reference (amongst others) to the child’s:
- Ascertainable wishes and feelings;
- Physical, emotional and educational needs;
- The likely effect of any change in circumstances (i.e. contact taking place);
- Any of the child’s characteristics which the Court considers relevant, such as their age or background;
- Any harm which the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering;
- How capable each party is of meeting the child’s needs.
When considering an application, the Court will seek to strike a balance between the position of all parties and moreover, what is in the best interest of the child. There are a range of powers available to the Court when considering contact, including letters, phone calls and all other forms of direct contact. Whilst every case is fact specific, grandparents will need to be realistic about the frequency of contact they are seeking, particularly if the child’s free time is already divided between their own separated parents.
The key for grandparents is to demonstrate that they would benefit from spending time with them. In cases where the parent or parents remain resistant to the grandparents seeing the child, a Court order will enable the grandparents to bring enforcement proceedings in the event of the parents’ failure to comply with the order.
If you found Absentee grandparents – advice and considerations helpful, you can find more content on building relationships with grandchildren on our Relationships channel.
This content was written by Andrew Foulds, a solicitor in the family team at Blacks Solicitors.Tags: grandchildren, Grandparents, legal rights Last modified: November 22, 2022