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The relationship between a child and their grandparent is unique and special.
All families are different and we do not expect everyone's story to be the same. Many people find that the sense of 'not being the only one' helps. Ramsdens have specialist lawyers with extensive experience of acting in these types of matters to provide support for your own situation and help those grandparents who are having a difficult time. We have helped many grandparents successfully achieve and maintain a relationship with their grandchildren.
Grandparents are playing an increasingly important role in family life, offering love, support, advice and experience. The relationship between a child and their grandparent is irreplaceable and contributes to a mutual sense of well being and belonging within the family. Furthermore, grandparents now provide a significant amount of childcare support and as a result are spending more time with their grandchildren than ever before.
Sadly, it is an increasing fact of life that grandchildren who are the product of broken homes are being deprived of contact with their grandparents and lose that very special relationship. Grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren and case law has tended to consider contact in favour of absent parents, leaving grandparents feeling neglected and powerless: but the Courts are now changing and recognising the significant role grandparents play and the contribution they make.
The sad but true fact is that only people with parental responsibility – which usually just means the mother and father named on the child’s birth certificate – have an automatic say with regards to any child. However, this does not indicate that all legal doors are closed to grandparents. If an agreement cannot be reached with regards to the maintaining of this important relationship, an approach to the Court can be considered. A grandparent does not have an automatic right to make any such application and will require the permission of the Court before any application can be furthered. Should this be obtained then your application will be considered.
Frequently this will involve the appointment of a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer to look at any welfare issues that need to be considered and to prepare a report to aid the Court in coming to a decision. When making a decision, the Court’s main consideration has to be what is in the best interests of that child. The onus is however often on the grandparent to prove their case and parents can object, raising yet another hurdle.
If the report is favourable it is often very strongly persuasive to the parent with care but if they still will not agree then there will be a full hearing with both sides giving evidence and the Court making a decision on the basis of what they feel to be in the child’s best interests. You will need to convince the court that your relationship with your grandchild significantly benefits their lives.
Once the Court has made a decision that contact is in a child’s best interests they will not tolerate any effort to thwart an order. The powers available to the Court to enforce these orders have recently been increased in such a way that makes it extremely difficult for parents to ignore them. They are therefore a very powerful way to ensure that grandparents can maintain a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with their grandchildren.
Whilst the majority of problems that occur relate to the loss of contact by grandparents with their grandchildren when their own children’s relationships break down, there are many other situations in which grandparents can find themselves in need of advice and assistance.
This is particularly the case where the local authority have become involved and where a child may be being accommodated with foster carers or be subject to a care order because of unsatisfactory arrangements at home. In these circumstances grandparents will often wish to maintain contact with their grandchildren and they may even wish to put themselves forward as the prospective main carer through either a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order.
It is possible for grandparents to be assessed as potential carers and become joined as a party to any existing proceedings that have been brought by the Local Authority although again this is subject to the provision that grandparents will need permission from the Court to make such an application.
Any proceedings concerning a child can be difficult, involving complex law and it is vital that legal advice is sought at an early stage to ensure that the correct approach is made. Ramsdens have specialist children lawyers who can help in matters of this nature and who can guide you through the process to ensure that you maintain that vital link and provide a measure of stability to your grandchildren at a time when they are confused and unhappy about the route their lives are taking.
If possible, attempt to discuss with the parent with care or the Local Authority to try and reach an agreement in respect of contact or care of your grandchild. If that is not possible, talk to a member of our children law specialists to obtain detailed advice about the situation. Early advice will allow you to understand your options and to act in an appropriate way so as not to unsettle what could be a very delicate situation.
Sometimes when relations have broken down a carefully drafted letter from your solicitor, which tries to defuse the tension of the situation and puts across why you feel your view is so important for you and your grandchildren may be all that’s needed. If this is not the case then other alternatives to include applications to the Court can be considered.
Here at Ramsdens we are committed to promoting a non-confrontational atmosphere in which problems relating to family breakdowns are dealt with in a sensitive, constructive and cost effective way.