Grandparents’ hopes dashed
When parents separate it can be an extremely emotional time for children. Having contact with grandparents can help. Often if there is an acrimonious split, grandparents (along with other extended members of the family) can be unreasonably refused contact. As a result the child not only has to adjust to their parents’ separation, but also losing contact with the whole of one side of their family.
In recent years the vital role that grandparents play in families has been recognised and a number of support organisations have been established such as the Grandparents’ Association and Grandparents Plus, who have been campaigning for increased rights for grandparents.
Unfortunately, hopes have been dashed by a recent report. The Family Justice Review panel was appointed to review the whole of the family justice system in England and Wales, looking at all aspects of the system from court decisions on taking children into care, to disputes over contact with children when parents divorce. It was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education, and the Welsh Government. It published its final report in November 2011, and confirmed that there are no plans to change the current legal position of grandparents.
At the moment absent parents can make an application to court for contact with children – but grandparents must get the Court’s permission (called ‘leave’) before they can then make an application for contact. The requirement “prevents hopeless or vexatious applications that are not in the interests of the child”. The parents of the child are able to oppose even the grandparents’ application for leave, as well as any subsequent application for contact.
So how can grandparents pursue contact with their grandchildren when it is being refused by parents?
The law does recognise the important role that the grandparents play in the child’s life even after parents separate. If a grandparent can demonstrate that they did have regular contact with the child then their application for leave should not be refused by the Court. Once a grandparent has been granted permission by the Court to apply for contact then the child’s welfare is the Court’s prime concern – it must be in the child’s best interest to exercise contact with a grandparent. One vital consideration is whether or not grandparents have unnecessarily taken sides in the separation. Grandparents must stay neutral in the separation and ensure that their grandchildren are not exposed to inappropriate comments about their parents.
Ridley & Hall’s award winning family law team understands the often heartbreaking situations that grandparents can find themselves in. We have strong links with support groups including the Grandparents’ Association, Family Rights Group, Grandparents Plus, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Network and Bridges and we are frequently involved in national groundbreaking cases.
For further advice about grandparents’ rights please contact Meena Kumari, Johanna Allen or Helen Dandridge on 01484 538421.