The Forgotten Victims
Grandparents can often be the forgotten victims of a marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, there is no legislation in place that gives grandparents any automatic rights to spend time with the children before, during or after a divorce. There was an attempt to introduce a Private Members Bill in parliament called the Grandparents (Access Rights) Bill 2010-12, but it failed to complete its passage through parliament and therefore never became law.
Initially, the only option that grandparents really have is to try and reach an agreement with the primary carer of the children. Family Mediation can often help in these circumstances. The aim of Family Mediation is to help parents and grandparents reach an agreement about the arrangements for the children in a constructive and amicable way and ensure that the needs of the children are kept at the very centre of any discussions. They may ask grandparents to give assurances that they will not try to influence the children’s opinion of the conflicting parties, and work out mutually agreed schedules so that the grandparents maintain contact with their grandchildren.
Family courts recognise the importance of grandparents in the family dynamic, and sometimes contact can be agreed in court. If contact arrangements cannot be agreed then the Court will make an order that the children are to spend time with their grandparents as long as they believe it is in the children’s best interests to make that order. The Court will be assisted by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), who will identify any welfare issues that the Court needs to be aware of.
It is important to remember that grandparents do require the courts’ permission (also referred to as ‘leave’) to make an application to Court for an Order to spend time with their grandchildren. However, the closer the relationship between the grandparents and the children, the more likely the court is to make an Order setting out arrangements for the children to spend time with their grandparents.
What if one or both parents object?
Parents have the right to object to grandparents having contact with their grandchildren, especially if there are grounds to believe that a child’s wellbeing may be compromised. The court will also look at whether contact would have a negative effect on the other family dynamics, especially during such a traumatic time as during a divorce. At all times, the welfare of the child must be the number one priority, regardless of the feelings of the adults.
Today, grandparents have a much greater chance of getting an Order so they can spend time with their grandchildren during or after a divorce. The influence of grandparents has been recognised as crucial to the development of the child, and unless there are exceptional circumstances, courts will usually make an Order ensuring that the children continue to have the benefit of spending time with their grandparents.