Grandparents do not have any automatic legal rights in respect of their grandchildren but they can seek the court’s permission to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order (“contact”). Before they do this it is highly recommended that grandparents try to make contact with their grandchildren’s parent(s) or guardian(s) to discuss the possibility of regular contact.
If grandparents are unsuccessful in gaining contact in this way or the situation is particularly delicate, the grandparent(s) could request a mediation session where an independent third party helps to mediate discussions between the grandparent(s) and the parent(s)/guardian(s) of the children with a view to formalising a mutual agreement.
What can I expect from mediation sessions?
In most cases a court will want grandparents to attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying to court. In this meeting an independent mediator will discuss whether mediation is right for the individual(s), what the costs of mediation sessions will be, the likely agenda of future sessions, and how many sessions will be needed. Mediation can only take place if both the grandparent(s) and the parent(s)/guardian(s) of the grandchild/grandchildren agree to it however both parties do not have to attend the same meetings at the same time should they not wish to.
If it is a grandparent initiating the contact with their grandchild/grandchildren then it is likely that they will need to pay for the costs of mediation (unless they are eligible for legal aid).
How do courts judge a grandparent’s application?
The courts will judge a grandparent’s application in relation to the welfare of the child or children involved. Although grandparents do not have automatic rights the courts are increasingly aware that many grandparents have played a significant role in their grandchildren’s lives. In recent years it is also more commonplace for grandparents to have provided childcare when parents are at work. There are of course cases where grandparents have never been afforded these opportunities. Whatever the current situation may be the law states that grandparents must seek leave from the court to apply for a Contact Order in the first instance.
Will a CAFCASS report influence a court’s decision on contact rights?
Once you have applied to the court for an Order a CAFCASS Welfare Officer may be appointed to consider the position. Their job is to talk to all parties involved so that they may then draw up a report for the court making recommendations as to the way forward.
It is not always necessary to have a full court hearing; if the CAFCASS Officer is satisfied that a grandparent/grandparents have a strong case the parent(s)/ guardian(s) may be persuaded to allow grandparents to have regular contact with their grandchild/grandchildren.
How are court orders upheld?
Sometimes grandparents are concerned that a parent or guardian may ignore the court order and deny them contact with their grandchild/grandchildren. Of course this can happen but there are measures in place to enforce an Order. A recent study has been carried out by the University of Exeter and the University of Oxford. They observed 215 national applications for contact and concluded that the courts do have sufficient powers to enforce court orders: Their research is published in this report – Enforcing contact orders: problem-solving or punishment?
Are new laws on grandparents’ rights likely to be implemented in the near future?
A Green Paper was produced by the Labour Government in 2010 and this proposed that grandparents need not apply for leave of court to make an application to see a grandchild/grandchildren. The Family Justice Review was subsequently set up in March 2010 and when the Coalition Government came into power the review backed them. In November 2011 the review reported that “the need for grandparents to apply for leave of the court before making an application for contact should remain. This prevents hopeless or vexatious applications that are not in the interests of the child”. This view has been upheld by the current Conservative government however organisations such as Grandparents Plus are always lobbying for change and the charity’s hope is that this standpoint will soon be challenged.
How can Tozers family solicitors support grandparents in gaining contact with their grandchildren?
Tozers family solicitors are experts in supporting grandparents with Children Act applications. Tozers’ specialist family team are here to listen, understand and guide you through the legal process; this includes helping you to secure time with the grandchildren, understanding your legal rights or indeed advising about guardianship for your grandchild/grandchildren. We provide advice and guidance to clients in line with the courts expectations and jurisdictions.
Tozers Solicitors are also proud to be members of Grandparents Plus (incorporating the Grandparents Association) and understand the challenges that grandparents face.
Further Advice for grandparents
If you’re a grandparent that would like to book a free initial consultation with one of our specialist family solicitors at our offices in Exeter, Teignmouth or Newton Abbot please call us on 01392 207020 or 01626 207020 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org