Relationship breakdown can be a stressful time for all the family, not only for the couple but for close family members too, including grandparents. For many grandparents, being denied contact with their grandchildren during this time, or following a divorce or dissolution, may not be something that they expect. It can therefore come as a shock when one party denies them time with their grandchildren. Unfortunately there is no automatic right for grandparents to see their grandchildren under English law, however the courts do recognise the significance of a grandparent’s role in a child’s life, especially during this emotional time. Therefore, should negotiations fail between family members, it is possible for a grandparent to apply to the court to try and establish a form of contact with their grandchild.
Applying to the Court
Under English law, any person who has parental responsibility for a child, for example a parent or guardian, is able to apply for contact with that child. This can be done by applying to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. Grandparents do not usually have parental responsibility for their grandchildren, however they are able to apply for permission (known in law as ‘leave’) to apply for a Child Arrangements Order under section 10(9) of the Children Act 1989. On receiving an application, the court will consider the following factors:
- The nature of the application for contact;
- The applicant’s connection to the child; and
- Any risk that the application could be harmful to the child.
Applying for a Child Arrangements Order
If a grandparent is successful in their application for leave, the court will grant them the necessary permission to enable them to make a further application for a Child Arrangements Order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. This application, if successful, will enable a grandparent to have contact with their grandchild. It may be possible that a grandparent will have to attend court at this stage if either parent raises any objections to contact. However, this will give a grandparent further opportunity to put forward their reasons for wishing to have contact reinstated to a judge.
There are many factors which the court will take into account when considering an application. Factors that are commonly looked at include the significance of the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild, together with the previous frequency of the relationship. The courts recognise the close bond that a grandchild can form with their grandparent and the effect that a sudden change to contact may have. Additionally, the factor at the centre of the court’s decision is whether an Order for contact is in the best interests of the grandchild. The emphasis is always on the child, rather than the rights of the grandparent. If a court considers that continuing contact may negatively affect other family member relationships then it could be possible for the court to refuse to make an Order for contact. However, this usually only occurs in exceptional circumstances.
Alternatives to Court
It is always best to try and reach an agreement between family members without having to make an application to the court. Initiating further court proceedings could add to the already high emotional atmosphere and may end up causing more tension between the couple separating. Therefore you should consider whether making an application to the court is the best way forward. Your specialist solicitor can talk you through your options. Mediation may be an effective alternative to successfully resolve disputes like this.
For more information on the issues raised in this blog please do not hesitate to contact one of the team at Rayden Solicitors.