Grandparents can obviously play a huge and important role in a child’s life, and this is especially so when the child’s parents separate.
But parental separation can also interrupt the grandparents’ relationship with the child, particularly if the child then lives with the ‘other’ parent, who is not the grandparent’s own child.
In this post we will examine the role of grandparents following parental separation, and what they can do if the separation does interrupt their relationship with the child.
Family breakdown can obviously be extremely traumatic for children, who will be faced with a new and often bewildering situation. Their life has been turned upside down, and they face an uncertain future.
Grandparents can play an important role in reducing that trauma, reassuring the children, and helping them cope with what has happened.
The grandparents’ home can remain a fixed point of ‘normality’, where the children can go and, for a time at least, experience life as it always was.
The children may also need someone who they can trust to talk to about what has happened, and what it means for the future. A grandparent can be that person (not taking sides, of course).
It is important therefore that the grandparents continue to make themselves available for the grandchildren, irrespective of their views about the separation of their son or daughter.
If the parental separation has caused a breakdown in contact between the grandparents and their grandchildren then obviously steps should be taken to re-establish the contact as quickly as possible.
If the children are having contact with the grandparents’ son or daughter then it may be possible to see the grandchildren during the contact times (with the agreement of the son or daughter, of course).
But if that is not possible, for example because the son or daughter is not themselves seeing the children, then the grandparents will have to take action to re-establish their contact.
Hopefully, this will be possible by agreement with the parent with whom the children are living, either directly or with the help of mediation.
But if agreement cannot be reached then the grandparents will have to apply to the Family Court for a child arrangements (contact) order.
Grandparents can apply for contact in the same way as parents, with one exception: they will first need to obtain the permission of the court to make the application.
In deciding whether to grant permission the court will consider the connection between the grandparents and the children, and whether the application is likely to cause harmful disruption to the children. In most cases, however, permission will be granted, as little more than a formality.
And in deciding whether to make a contact order in favour of the grandparents, and if so what kind of contact should take place, the court will be guided by what it considers best for the welfare of the children, taking into account such matters as the ascertainable wishes of the children (considered in the light of their age and understanding), the needs of the children, the likely effect of any change upon the children, any harm they are at risk of suffering, and the capability of the grandparents of meeting their needs.
In general, the court will usually consider that regular contact with their grandparents is likely to be beneficial to the children’s welfare, and a contact order will therefore usually be made.
As to the amount and type of contact (daytime only, overnight, telephone, etc.), this will vary depending upon the particular circumstances, although obviously grandparents would not usually expect to have as much contact as a parent would have.
For further information, please see the Grandparents Rights page.
Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce law, child-law and arbitration.
Please contact us if you require any further information