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There have been fresh calls for changes to the law where the rights of grandparents to see their grandchildren are concerned, the BBC has reported.
At the moment, grandparents do not have an automatic right to see their grandchildren after a divorce. MPs are calling for the government to enshrine in law a child’s right to have a close relationship with members of their extended family, including their grandparents. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed it would consider the proposals.
Grandparents can often be the forgotten victims of a marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, there is no legislation in place that gives grandparents any automatic rights of access before, during or after a divorce.
Initially, the only option that grandparents really have is mediation. A neutral mediator can help get both parties engaged in positive dialogue while ensuring that the needs of the children are kept at the very centre of any discussions. They may ask grandparents to give assurances that they will not try to influence the children’s opinion of the conflicting parties and work out mutually agreed schedules so that the grandparents maintain contact with their grandchildren.
Family courts recognise the importance of grandparents in the family dynamic, and sometimes contact can be agreed in court, rather than by a mediator. This will involve the appointment of a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer, who will act as the point of contact for the family. They will also look at any issues that need to be addressed, and help the court come to a decision regarding access.
Court orders can be applied for by grandparents if mediation has broken down, and again it will be a CAFCASS officer who works with you to look at welfare issues and to prepare reports for the court. It will, however, require the services of a legal representative.
Despite the fact that grandparents have no legal rights to access, courts are now far more aware of the important role grandparents play in children’s lives. So they are more likely to set guidelines for access, regardless of the situation between the divorcing parents.
It is important to remember that grandparents do require the courts’ to make an application for a court order granting them access. The closer the relationship between the grandparents and the children, the more likely the court is to grant access rights, and in some extreme cases, even make grandparents the legal guardians of children. This is rare, but it does happen, especially when the welfare of the children may be compromised if they stay with either of the parents.
What if one or both parents object?
Parents have the right to object to grandparents having access to their grandchildren, especially if there are grounds to believe that a child’s well-being may be compromised. The court will also 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 the child must be the number one priority, regardless of the feelings of the adults.
Today, grandparents have a much greater chance of being allowed access to children during or after a divorce. The influence of grandparents has been recognised as crucial to the development of the child, and unless there are exceptional circumstances, courts will often side with the grandparents in access disputes. It is, however, essential to have good legal representation, with a solicitor that specialises in family law.
If you require any advice regarding a matter similar to this, then please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team of family law solicitors in Exeter on 01392 207 020.