What rights do grandparents have to access to their grandchildren following a divorce or separation?
This is a question that is often raised, as when there is a family breakdown, grandparents can so often lose contact with their grandchildren, either due to geographical changes or one ex-partner or spouse refusing them contact with the children.
This can be a heart breaking time for all involved and unfortunately, despite a lot of discussion on the subject, the Children’s Act does not give grandparents a right in law to see their grandchildren or take any active involvement in their lives. The act only provides this protection to parents and step-parents (that have been in the child’s life for over three years). For grandparents, this can be devastating as they are an integral part of a family unit and quite often have spent years supporting the child’s parents and the children themselves with emotional support and, more and more often, with practical support such as child minding to allow both parents to work.
What can you do?
Well, as a grandparent you do have the right to apply to the courts for contact with your grandchildren. As with all legal processes, this can be a lengthy and costly exercise so really, should be a last resort.
More practically, following the divorce or separation of your child and their partner, try your best to remove yourself from the turmoil of the separation and maintain contact with the estranged parent and make it clear that you are prepared to continue to support the child/ren as best you can as a grandparent.
In a lot of cases this will work and grandparents can continue to see their grandchildren and to support them as they did prior to the family breakdown. In some cases, however, this does not work. Emotions can be raw, those involved can feel betrayed, angry, hurt or confused and this can lead to a complete breakdown of communication between them and their children’s grandparents.
Can mediation work?
Before considering the court option mentioned above, you may find that mediation suits your situation. As described in detail elsewhere on our site, mediation is the perfect environment to be able to discuss the situation in a calm, civilised manner in the presence of a qualified, unbiased mediator; and to voice your concerns and hopes whilst listening to the concerns and hopes of the other party. This will hopefully allow you and the child’s parent to come to an agreement on the extent of your involvement in the life of the child/ren.
Does mediation suit every situation?
For mediation to work, the first step to clarify is that all parties are willing to take part. It is no good if it is just you that wants to mediate as mediation is completely consensual. You know your situation better than anyone, you know your previous relationship with the person involved and whether they would consider re-building your relationship with your grandchildren. If you think there is a reasonable chance of them doing so then yes, mediation may work for you. If the other party refuses to co-operate or you know that even if they did agree to attend a mediation session, there is very little, if any chance of them allowing you contact with your grandchildren, then the only other route is to apply to court.
Can your grandchildren take part in the mediation process?
Our mediators are trained and experienced with dealing with children. Depending upon their age and the thoughts of their parents then yes, your grandchildren can take part in the mediation process. If they are old enough this can, in some situations provide extremely valuable information to all parties involved concerning what the children want. Obviously, the child/ren would have to agree to be spoken to by a mediator.
In most cases, the grandparents have to pay for both parties in the mediation process. Our fees are displayed on this site and are extremely attractive compared to the cost of legal proceedings through the court process.
If mediation is not suited to your situation then before you can do anything, you must apply to court for a contact order to see your grandchildren. The next step is usually for a Cafcass officer to be assigned to your case and they will visit and interview all involved. Once they have done this they will produce a report for the court. If the report provides a strong case for you to resume contact with your grandchildren this will often persuade the child’s parent to allow you access, if however they still refuse the case can proceed to court.
The court will ask to hear from both you and the child’s parent and will take into consideration the Cafcass report. Ultimately, the court will decide the outcome based on what is best for the child’s welfare. If you have played a major part in the child’s life up to the point of the breakdown of the family then the court will usually decide that this should continue.
Other family members?
This page has concentrated on the rights of grandparents but we do recognise that families are much bigger than this, there are uncles, aunties and cousins to name but a few. In a similar manner to above, mediation may work for you if you have been estranged from the children related to you from a relationship that has broken down.