For many grandparents, their grandchildren are very important parts of their lives and the idea of being denied contact with them can be heart-breaking. It can sometimes be the case when a couple separate that one party will refuse visits or other contact. Unfortunately, the law offers no automatic right for grandparents to have contact with their grandchildren. However, the courts often recognise the invaluable relationship a grandparent and grandchild can share and the significance this has in a child’s life. If contact has broken down and negotiation has failed then it is possible to apply to the court to try and establish contact with a grandchild.
Applying to the court
The law provides that only people with parental responsibility for a child, for example, parents or guardians, can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to gain contact with the child. However, it is possible for someone without parental responsibility, like grandparents, to apply for permission (known in court proceedings as “leave”) to apply for a Child Arrangements Order under section 10(9) of the Children Act 1989. Under this section the court will consider:
– 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’s well-being.
Applying for a Child Arrangements Order
If the application is successful then the grandparent will have permission to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 to gain contact with their grandchild. It is possible at this stage that they may have to attend a court hearing if either of the parents raise any objections, but this gives the opportunity to put forward evidence in front of a judge as to why they wish to have contact.
The court will take into account a non-exhaustive list of factors when considering whether to make an order. Factors that are commonly looked at include the relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild and the particular significance this has in the grandchild’s life, along with the frequency of the contact that was in place previously. At the centre of the court’s decision will be whether granting an Order for contact will be in the grandchild’s best interests. The court will use this information to weigh up whether contact between the grandparent and grandchild should continue. In circumstances where continuing contact may negatively affect other family member relationships then it could be possible that the court will refuse to make an order. However, it is usually only in exceptional circumstances that this may happen.
Alternatives to Court
Court proceedings can carry a lot of emotion and you should consider whether 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.
Should you have any questions or require further assistance from our team of family law experts, please do not hesitate to contact us.