Sadly, not all grandparents have regular contact with their grandchild. This typically occurs in the case of a family breakdown or if the relationship with the grandchild’s parent/s breaks down. Understanding what, if any, rights you have and the steps you can take to build and maintain a relationship with your grandchild is important.
Grandparents have no automatic rights to see their grandchild but they can apply to the family court for permission to make an application. This can be done separately to an application a parent might be making to have contact with the child. If you are granted permission to make an application, the court will consider your relationship with the child carefully before deciding whether to make an order for contact. The closer the relationship before the breakdown, the more likely you are to be successful.
In many cases, family mediation is a useful tool for parents and grandparents to enable them to try and agree a way forward and it would be expected that mediation is attempted before any court application is made.
If a case reaches the family court they will look at what sort of contact would be in the child’s best interests so whether this would be either indirect contact via letters or phone calls or direct contact, which would include face to face contact. The Court will appoint a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) Officer who will speak to all parties and feedback to the court with their report.
At a court hearing the evidence will be heard and you will need to explain how you have previously been involved in your grandchild’s life and why there would be a negative impact if that didn’t continue. Whatever decision the court makes, it will be made with the best interest of the child in mind.
Where a situation is ‘live’ and a relationship breakdown is at risk of happening imminently, sometimes taking a step back from the situation can help. For example, explain to the parents that you do not wish to be involved in any dispute they are having and that you are interested in maintaining your relationship with the child. Offer practical support, perhaps you can look after them for an evening or help to collect them from school. Offer the child emotional support but be cautious about being seen to discuss matters behind their parent’s back.
Sometimes it is helpful to set out in writing to both parents the involvement you would like to have and the support you can offer so that there is a clear understanding of your intentions.
With many children having access to the internet via smart phones or laptops your grandchild may reach out directly to you for contact. Unless contact has been prohibited then if you correspond directly with them it is suggested to keep to a neutral subject matter – perhaps how they are doing at school or around their hobbies and avoid discussing a dispute with them. Keeping a record of this is useful in case it is needed in court as evidence later.
You may choose to write a letter to your grandchild and perhaps include a stamped addressed envelope to enable an easy reply. Again, keeping subjects light and focused on them and what they are doing is recommended and it is a good way to remind them that you care.
Sometimes these situations resolve themselves and other times they don’t. We are happy to chat through your questions about family law issues and offer an initial fixed fee consultation service, so get in touch to book one today.
Sunita Chauhan is an associate at Gullands and can be contacted at email@example.com