It is increasingly common for Grandparents to have to make applications to Court for contact to their grandchildren. Sadly when there is a breakdown within a family unit, for various reasons, grandparents can lose contact with their grandchildren. The most common reason for this is that after separation or divorce, the parent with whom the child lives refuses to allow the grandparents (usually the “in-laws”) to have contact to the child.
Whilst of course it is always best to try and negotiate these matters and sometimes the Mediation Service can help resolve these disputes, there are occasions when the only way grandparents can secure contact to grandchildren is by way of a Court Order.
Grandparents must first of all make an application to Court for “leave” (permission) of the Court to make an application for contact. In most cases leave is granted especially where there has been contact between the children and grandparents prior to the breakdown of the family.
Assuming grandparents are granted leave to make an application then the application is heard in a similar fashion to applications made by parents for contact to their children. However, quite often grandparents’ applications have to be balanced alongside parents’ applications for contact. For instance, it is not uncommon for a father to be denied contact to children by the mother who also objects to the paternal grandparents exercising contact. Generally, the Courts will of course give priority to father’s contact and usually, if father is granted contact then the paternal grandparents can take advantage of that and exercise contact to the children when their son exercises contact.
In some cases however grandparents need to pursue contact quite independently for a variety of reasons – sometime there is a dispute not just with the daughter/son-in-law but also the son/daughter. Sometimes, a mother for instance, may not object to the children having contact with their father but does object to the children having contact with her ex “in-laws.” Sometimes a parent dies and the surviving parent will not allow contact between the children and grandparents.
In any decision where a Court has to consider issues regarding the children under the Children Act 1989, the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration of the Court. The Court will consider a variety of factors when deciding what is in the best interests of the child including the importance of the “child – grandparents” link over the years; the history of the relationship and the nature of the connection between the child and grandparent(s). Lord Justice Ward in a frequently quoted case in 1995 stated that grandparents ought to have a special place in a child’s affection worthy of being maintained by contact and contact is assumed to be beneficial.
If you need any further advice or assistance on this subject then please do not hesitate to contact our Family Team: Anita Toal on 01775 722261 or email firstname.lastname@example.org