A relationship breakdown is the most common reason for grandparents not being able to see their grandchildren. Family Solicitor, Rosalyn Jacobs discusses grandparents rights and options available to discuss access to grandchildren.
What rights do grandparents have when it comes to their grandchildren?
Grandparents do not have automatic rights to contact with their grandchildren, or an automatic right to make an application to court. However, grandparents can apply for leave (‘the court’s permission’) to make an application for a Child Arrangements order to spend time with their grandchildren, or in some circumstances where appropriate for the child to live with them.
If a parent refuses to allow grandparents to see their grandchild, what steps can be taken to resolve this?
Grandparents should seek legal advice as to their options. For example, a solicitor could contact the parent or their legal representative to try to resolve matters and reach an agreement. Alternatively, grandparents could consider referring the matter to mediation in order to try reach an agreement.
In 2021 it was announced that the Ministry of Justice has created a family mediation voucher scheme to support families to go to mediation where there are limited finances. The voucher scheme is time-limited, but it is currently providing a sum of £500 per case to families who are mediating on child arrangements issues. The scheme has been developed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic with a view to supporting families to settle disputes.
Eligibility for the mediation voucher is unrelated to an individual’s income. Once you have attended your MIAM and had your case assessed for suitability, you may be able to apply for the voucher scheme. Not all mediation cases satisfy the requirements – only the following cases will be eligible for the voucher:
- Child arrangement disputes; or
- Disputes involving financial matters where there is also a child arrangement issue.
Your case must relate to children in order to qualify. You cannot qualify for the voucher scheme if your mediation case solely relates to a financial dispute. You should contact your local mediation service and discuss whether your case could be eligible for this scheme.
Should both these options fail, whilst grandparents do not an automatic right to apply to the Court, they can apply to the Court to deal with obtaining contact with their grandchildren by way of seeking permission to make such an application first. If the application for permission is successful, their application for a child arrangements order to spend time with the grandchildren will proceed.
How can mediation help disputes between parents and grandparents?
Mediation allows all parties to discuss the current issues and reach an agreement outside of the Court process. This process allows parties to deal with past concerns and provides a safe place for individuals to discuss their views. An agreement reached together through mediation may well have a far greater level of success in the long run rather than a court enforced arrangement.
Parties are required to attend a MIAM (mediation information and assessment meeting) before making any application to Court. Parties do not have to attend mediation, but they do have to attend this initial appointment which explains the mediation process. If appropriate an invitation to the other party will be made to take part in the process and hopefully mediation will be able to proceed. Alternatively, if it does not proceed or is not successful the mediator will provide the necessary signed form for an application to proceed to court.
If one of the parents has been denied access, can the grandparents still apply to see the child?
Yes, the Court will be looking at the relationship of the grandparents separately from a parent who does not spend time with their children. However, if there is a conflicting application, spending time with the parent will usually take priority. It would be important to take specialist legal advice to determine whether making such an application would be a help or a hindrance, and indeed the chances of it being successful.
What does the court take into account when considering an application from grandparents to see their grandchild?
If the application proceeds, the court will use the welfare checklist (section 1 of the Children Act 1989) to determine what order should be made, the same as an application by a parent. These include, the wishes of the child, the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs, any harm suffered by the child, capabilities of the applying party, and more. Where a child does not have a link with their maternal or paternal family through a parent, this will be an important factor for the court to consider under many of the factors under the welfare checklist.
How can we help at Ellisons?
At Ellisons our experienced Family Law Solicitors provide a bespoke service recognising that a breakdown in family relationships can involve complex emotions. With our experience, we can guide you through a dispute in a sensitive but effective way to ensure an appropriate outcome. Contact Ellisons’ specialist Family Law Solicitors today on 01206 764477 or email us at email@example.com.