Grandparents and Christmas – Access to Grandchildren
Solicitor Meera Shinh looks at the difficult issue of grandparent visitation rights..
- 14 million grandparents in the UK
- Two thirds provide regular childcare for their grandchildren
One step removed, grandparents are often faced with the dilemma as to when to share their views regarding the decisions their children are making. If parents reach the decision to separate then new arrangements are likely to affect grandparents and their ability to spend time with their grandchildren.
The strains and stresses that parental separation puts on families are likely to be felt more acutely over the festive period. Sadly there will be some grandparents hoping that next year things will be different and wondering what, if anything they can do to influence this.
Grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to spend time with their grandchildren. They can, however, apply to the court for permission to bring an application for an order that they can spend time with their grandchildren. The order is referred to as a child arrangements order and the courts will consider all the circumstances of the individual case before reaching a decision and undertake a careful analysis of what is in the children’s best interests.
In the first instance, and if possible, supporting parents to try to keep the dialogue open and promoting the option of talking matters through in mediation, or with a family therapist, should be thoroughly explored. A court application places immense pressure on all parties and makes repairing relationships that much harder.
Giving parents the space they need to adjust, even if it means time spent apart from grandchildren for a while, may prove beneficial in the longer term. Equally, seeking to remain neutral, not taking sides between the parents, could provide great relief and stability for grandchildren coming to terms with new arrangements.
If one - or both - parents raise objections to children spending time with their grandparents and no agreement can be reached with family law professionals, including mediators or solicitors, an application can be made. The court will hear evidence and make a decision.
It is essential for grandparents to receive expert legal advice to ensure that they are well positioned to persuade the court of the benefit and importance for the children of maintaining their on-going relationship.
Meera Shinh is a Solicitor in the family team at national law firm Weightmans. The firm is a panel member of www.grandparentsplus.org.uk.