The problems experienced by grandparents typically involve;-
- Grandparents often play a vital role within the family and more increasingly, are taking on the responsibility of a parental role to children.
- Grandparents are giving up work to care for those children and then strugging on a low income.
- Grandparents are losing contact with their grandchildren following a breakdown in the relationship of the parents.
It is sad to see that grandparents are often the victims of problems in their children’s relationships, and they need specialist advice and support. Paul J Watson Solicitor is committed to helping grandparents to exercise contact, gain residence of grandchildren going into care and to achieve adoption of those grandchildren.
Grandparents’ rights to see their grandchildren
In the vast majority of cases, children should always have the chance to see their grandparents. Having regular and consistent contact with grandparents can massively benefit a child’s life. It can give them the comfort of having a wider family unit and having more people to turn to when problems may occur.
Currently, the law does not give grandparents any set rights to have contact with their grandchildren. This can lead to considerable problems when the parents and grandparents suffer a breakdown in their relationship. As a result grandparents can, through no fault of their own, suffer considerable distress and upset from seeing less of their grandchildren.
Common problems in grandparents’ rights;-
I have recently fallen out with the parents of my grandchildren but I do not want that to affect the relationship I have with my grandchildren. Do I have any rights to see my grandchildren? What should I do?
The first thing to do is to try and talk to the parents. It may be useful to write a letter in order to avoid any face to face confrontation where emotions may run high and arguments may develop, putting extra strains on relations. Such a letter can explain your concerns about not seeing your grandchildren and can also express to the parents the negative impacts on a grandchild when they start to see less of their grandparents. It can be extremely difficult for a child to lose contact with family members to whom they may have become very close to and where children’s development is concerned, consistency is always of paramount importance. Another option may be to discuss the mater with another family member such as an aunt or uncle to the children who can act as go between
If this is unsuccessful, mediation is the next step to take. This is where the parties will come together at a supervised and controlled meeting. The mediator will consider the position of both parties and negotiate a resolution as to how contact between grandchild and grandparent can be implemented. Mediation is a useful way to gain contact but in a way which seeks to maintain a good relationship between both parties.
My attempts to reach an amicable agreement with the parents has been unsuccessful; now what do I do?
Where all other options fail, it may then become necessary to obtain a court order. The implementation of the Children Act 1989 made it possible for the court to make a number of different orders in respect of children. One of the most common types of court order is a ‘contact order’. This term has replaced the term ‘access’ but it is essentially the same thing. An applicant for such an order will asks for the court to allow them to have either direct or indirect contact. Direct contact is where the person to whom the order is granted will be able to physically see the children and perhaps take part in activities with them. Indirect contact is where the person will talk to the child by letter, telephone, e-mail, text messages etc.
As a grandparent, how do I get a contact order?
At present, before applying for any of these orders, a grandparent must first obtain the court’s permission to make an application. This is because grandparents do not have what is known as ‘parental responsibility’ (see point 5 below for an explanation of what this means).
In deciding whether or not to grant permission the court will consider the connection between the person making the application and how any order will affect the child in question.
If permission is granted and an application for a contact order is made, the court will consider what is in the best interests of the child. They will take into account all the circumstances of the case in order to assess whether allowing the grandparents to have contact is the best solution.
I am concerned about the safety of my grandchildren in their current home. Is there anything I can do?
Many grandparents may have grave concerns over the current upbringing of their grandchildren. They may have witnessed their grandchildren being neglected, either physically or emotionally, or in the worst cases, both.
The other most common type of order under the Children Act 1989 is the ‘residence order’. This is what was once known as ‘custody’ whereby the person applying for such an order is asking the court for their permission for the child or children to live with them. As with applications for contact orders, permission of the court is required before grandparents can obtain residence.
In deciding whether or not to make an order, the court will consider whether or not it is in the best interests of the child for them to live with their grandparents. This will often include detailed assessments of their current conditions and the background to their life with their parents.
How can I obtain grandparents’ rights so I can make decisions on my grandchildren’s upbringing?
In order to make important decisions regarding a child’s welfare such as consenting to their medical treatment or making decisions in relation to their education, a person must have what is known as ‘parental responsibility’ for the child in question. This gives the holder the right to make all of these important decisions.
However, grandparents do not automatically have parental responsibility and they must be obtained through the courts or by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the parents. The latter of these may be difficult to obtain as it is unlikely that the parents would be willing to consent to such an arrangement.
If grandparents have a residence order made in their favour then they will gain parental responsibility. However, a contact order does not attach such rights.
What if I obtain a contact order but the parents of my grandchild ignore it?
The courts will always strive to ensure that parents comply with any order that they make. Unfortunately, it can never guarantee that this will be the case. However, if parents purposefully fail to obey a contact order the court has the power to put in place measures to encourage parents to allow contact which may include asking them to participate in unpaid work. When an order is made, the court will attach what is known as a warning notice on the parents which sets out the consequences of disobeying an order. This will hopefully dissuade parents from ignoring these orders.
If you require advice on any of these issues, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free no-obligation initial appointment.
For further reading on grandparents’ rights, we recommend that you visit;-