Posted by Emma McMorrow, Senior Associate
Divorce: what about grandparents’ rights?
This article first appeared in Berkhamsted Life, August 2019.
During separation and the divorce process, many people focus on the rights of the parents to spend time with their children. This issue alone can become fraught with difficulties and extended family members are frequently forgotten. It will therefore fall to those family members to pursue their own rights if their relationships with the children of the family are to be maintained.
When parental relationships become acrimonious, it is not only the children and the parents who suffer. Often, grandparents are left distraught when contact with their grandchildren is either restricted or prevented altogether. As childcare costs increase, grandparents are playing an increasingly important role in the lives of their grandchildren. Thankfully, over the last few years, the family courts have begun to recognise that role and the impact it has not only on the children but also upon the family unit as a whole.
When faced with the prospect of limited or no contact with their grandchildren, grandparents do have options available to them. If discussions with what is often the primary carer for the children do not produce a positive outcome, the starting point for grandparents is section 8 of the Children Act 1989. In order to limit future restrictions on contact, grandparents will often wish to see the contact with their grandchildren set out in a formalised agreement rather than on an ad hoc basis and at the whim of one parent, or perhaps both. To formalise such arrangements, an application to the court will have to be made. As grandparents, permission from the court is required before such an application for contact can be made. More often than not, permission will be granted, particularly in circumstances where up to the point of separation, the grandparents have played a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren.
When approving contact arrangements for any relative, be it parents or grandparents, the court’s focus will always be on making an order that is in the child’s best interests. When there are no welfare or risk concerns, and where there has been a close relationship between grandparent and child, the court is likely to make an order which ensures that the relationship between them is protected and will continue regardless of the parent’s separation.
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