Most people would agree that grandparents are a very important part of children’s lives (and vice versa). Research published in 2014 showed that 14% of grandparents (that’s around 1.9 million people) have reduced their working hours, given up a job or taken time off work to care for a grandchild. They can also provide a haven of normality and calm when their grandchildren’s parents are arguing, a fact which Courts do recognise.
Sadly, when relationships break down or a parent dies some grandparents lose touch with their grandchildren. A 2014 survey of teenagers and young adults aged 14 – 22 suggested that 1 in 5 (19%) completely lost contact with one or more of their grandparents after their parents separated.
Grandparents do not have an automatic “right” to see their grandchildren. Grandparents who are denied the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren are able to seek a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) from the Court.
However, they will be expected to have attempted to reach an agreement with the parents through mediation before applying to court. If mediation fails for any reason an application can be made to court.
The grandparents have to seek the permission of the Court to apply for a CAO governing arrangements for contact unless:
- Their grandchild has lived with them for three years;
- There is a CAO providing for the grandchild to live with them; or
- They have the consent of all those who have Parental Responsibility for the child.
Whilst there is no presumption that a grandparent will get permission, most grandparents should be able to satisfy the Court that their substantive application for contact has merit and that they have both a blood relationship and an actual relationship with the child. The latter may be difficult to demonstrate where there is a very young child who hasn’t seen his or her grandparent for many months so it is important that grandparents do not delay their application.
Once permission has been granted, the Court will then go on to determine what contact, if any, the grandparents should enjoy. The Court has to consider ‘The Welfare Checklist’, which includes considering any risk to the child of the application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that he or she would be harmed by it.
Whilst there is no presumption that contact with a grandparent is in a child’s best interests, the Courts do recognise the valuable contributions that grandparents make to a child’s life, but also have to take into account the adverse effect it can have on a child, if there is hostility between the grandparents and the parent with whom the child is living.
If you have any questions about your right to see your grandchildren, please call Kirpal Bidmead, Head of Family, or a member of her team at the Derby office on 01332 226176 or the Ashbourne office on 01332 342208.