Grandparents play an enormously important role in the lives of their grandchildren. In recent times it has become more and more common for grandparents to take an active role in raising their grandchildren. Many children live with their grandparents full time in multi-generational households and many more children enjoy their grandparents looking after them while their parents work to alleviate the prohibitive cost of childcare. Recent government statistics show that almost two thirds of all grandparents look after their grandchildren regularly and one in three working mothers have help from grandparents.
When a divorce happens in a family, grandparents can play a supportive role. They can help to provide stability and reassurance for the children in what is an emotionally difficult time. Many grandparents also find themselves taking on more of a caretaker role after divorce.
However, what happens when the divorce results in conflict between the parent(s) and the grandparents? What happens when the grandparents are refused contact with their grandchildren or for some other reason they lose contact with them?
The Children Act 1989 does not specifically refer to grandparents. However, if a grandparent wishes to apply to the court for an order specifying that they may see their grandchildren, they have to apply for permission to file an application under section 8 of the Children Act. There is effectively a two-stage procedure.
If another family member, for example, the children’s father, is already making a court application to define his time with the children, then the grandparents’ application for permission is unlikely to succeed. The court is likely to say that the grandparents’ application is a duplication and the father’s application should be dealt with first and foremost. The court presumes that once the father’s time with the children has been sorted out, then he will facilitate the children seeing their grandparents during his time with them.
When deciding whether the grandparent should be given permission the court looks at the nature of the proposed application that the grandparent wishes to make, their connection with the children and any risk there might be of the application disrupting the children’s lives to such an extent that it would harm the children.
We always encourage clients to try to resolve any issues within the family. Clearly, court proceedings are a last resort and there are alternatives to litigation available. Grandparents should consider attending mediation sessions with the rest of their family in order to reach an agreement about when they can see their grandchildren.