Advising grandparents can be one of the hardest aspects of being a family law solicitor. Conflicts can or may have arisen in the child’s welfare or upbringing for grandparents to want to take legal measures to take care of their grandchild.
Grandparents are heavily relied on, and relish spending time with their grandchildren. Whether they are denied time with grandchildren through a falling out, or in a separation or divorce, all that went before can easily be forgotten. While it is undeniable that grandparents enrich their grandchildren’s lives, if they have fallen out with the parents, this can cause conflict to which children should not be exposed.
If the lack of contact is as a result of separation or divorce, grandparents may have a more difficult time seeing their grandchildren.
The Court’s first concern will be focussed on the time children spend with each parent, and the time that grandparents previously had allocated cannot always be honoured. Having said that, in some cases grandparents can be the child’s main carer, and the court can ratify this position.
To make an application to the Court you would initially need to apply to be heard at the Court about this issue. This is normally granted for grandparents when a grandchild is living with them or there is a dispute about where the grandchild would live. In some situations if there are serious welfare concerns about how parents are caring for children, social services can also intervene.
The judge will use the welfare checklist set out in the Children Act 1989 to make decisions. This checklist requires consideration of:
In the first instance, grandparents should try to re-establish contact with their grandchildren directly through the parents, but if this proves difficult, they have the options to explore family therapy or mediation to resolve any issues. Court proceedings should be a last resort owing the the fact that results cannot be guaranteed.
Grandparents should take early advice on their legal rights not only for their benefit, but primarily for the benefit of the child.
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