Access to Grandchildren: What are your rights?
Here at Grant Stephens Family Law, we often receive enquiries from grandparents whose son or daughter have separated from their partner, and they are now being prevented from spending time with their grandchildren. This comes as no surprise as when a dispute arises between the parents of a child, grandparents will often find themselves in an uncertain and at times, difficult position.
So what are grandparents’ legal rights in relation to their grandchild? The unfortunate truth is that at present, there is no automatic legal right to a relationship with a grandchild. However, grandparents who are keen to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren still have options available to them.
Informal Arrangement with Both Parents
Before you consider taking any additional steps, you may reach your desired outcome by simply communicating with both parents. Both parents, especially in instances of separation, will be going through an extremely difficult time. Therefore, by showing that you are there to offer support and guidance for both parents, and not ‘choosing a side’, it is more likely that you will reach an agreement with the parents on an informal contact arrangement.
Of course, this is easier said than done and it may be that another option proves more appropriate, especially in instances where communication has broken down.
If an agreement between those involved cannot be reached informally, an independent family mediator can be used to assist the parties arrive at an agreement. Mediation can be a far quicker and more cost-effective method of settling disputes without the need to go to Court, and is a cordial means of resolving the issue where the direct approach cannot work.
Mediation is also a necessary step in Court proceedings, as you must attend a ‘Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting’ (MIAM) prior to making any application to the Court and prove this within any court application.
Applying for a Court Order
It may be that you have tried these options and are still unable to reach agreement. In such circumstances, you may deem it to be necessary to take the matter to Court. Upon a successful application, the Court can make a Child Arrangements Order which will make enforceable orders for contact with the child.
However, due to grandparents not having automatic legal rights in relation to their grandchild, they must first apply for permission from the Court before they can apply for a Child Arrangements Order Part of the criteria when deciding whether or not to grant permission is: the connection between the grandparent and the child and, any potential disruption to the child’s life caused by the proposed application.
If permission is granted, the Court will then consider the application for a Child Arrangements Order. Ultimately, the Court’s decision will come down to what is in the child’s best interests.
Managing Director, Mr Grant Stephens, has recently given his thoughts on the matter, stating:
“The Courts have over the years been increasingly willing to recognise the importance of grandparents to the lives and wellbeing of children and can consider them a fundamental component of a child’s healthy development. As a result, provided there is an established connection between the grandparent and child, the Courts are now more ready than ever before to make an order in favour of grandparents spending time and having a relationship with their grandchildren, independently of the parents.”
If you would like to find out more, please contact us.