In a divorce, nobody really comes out of the process a ‘winner’. Hostilities between battling former spouses can often sour relationships, not just between them but throughout the wider family group too.
So in a divorce situation, what rights do grandparents have, and how should they deal with what is always a very painful and emotional situation?
Rachel Bloxwich, an Associate in the Family team, discusses the options:
Grandparents can often be the forgotten victims of a marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, there is no legislation in place that gives grandparents any automatic rights to spend time with a grandchild.
The first step is usually to approach the child’s parents to see if any arrangements can be agreed. If there are ongoing difficulties between parents, however, this may result in only one parent agreeing to the grandparent’s request.
If this doesn’t work, then the next step is to talk to a mediator. A neutral mediator can help get all parties engaged while ensuring that the needs of the children are kept at the centre of any discussions.
Family courts do recognise the importance of grandparents in the family dynamic, and if mediation does not work or is not suitable, a grandparent can apply to the Court for an order to set out the arrangements for a grandchild to spend time with them. This usually involves the appointment of a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer, who will be able to make recommendations to the Court after speaking to all of the parties and carrying out safeguarding checks.
A grandparent cannot, automatically apply to the Court for an Order. They must first obtain the permission of the Court who will consider the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild to decide whether permission should be granted. This can be a complex process and having specialist legal advice is vitally important. They will also look at any issues that need to be addressed, and help the court come to a decision regarding contact.
Despite the fact that grandparents have no legal rights to contact, courts are now far more aware of the role grandparents play in a child’s life so they are more likely to put arrangements in place for contact, regardless of the situation between the divorcing parents.
The closer the relationship between the grandparents and the children, the more likely a court is to put contact arrangements in place. In some extreme cases, it could even make grandparents the legal guardians of children if staying with either parent may compromise their welfare.
Parents do have the right to object to grandparents having access to a child. The court will look at whether contact would have a negative effect on the other family dynamics, especially during such a traumatic time as during a divorce. At all times, the wellbeing of a child is the number one priority.
Today, grandparents have a much greater chance of being allowed access to children during or after a divorce or separation.
The influence of grandparents has been recognised as crucial to the development of a child, and unless there are good reasons, courts will often side with the grandparents in disputes about contact. It is, however, essential to have good legal representation, with a solicitor that specialises in family law.
If you have any concerns regards Grandparental rights, contact Rachel on 01902 392454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.