Grandma in Little Red Riding Hood had it tough, but the current legal framework means that other grandparents have a difficult time too, in a legal system that can be as sympathetic as the Big Bad Wolf.
Many grandparents play a vital role in looking after their grandchildren and form close bonds with them. One in four working families depends on grandparents for childcare. The Children Act now includes a presumption that (unless it can be shown otherwise) the involvement of both parents in a child’s life is best.
But what about grandparents? Sadly they have no automatic legal “rights”: there is no presumption that it is best for a grandparent to continue to be involved in a child’s life. In fact, they don’t even have the right to ask for help from the courts (whereas parents automatically do). First, they have to get the court’s permission even to make an application.
In order to decide whether to grant permission, the court will look, amongst other things, at the sort of order the grandparent wants to get, their connection with their grandchild, and whether the application itself might upset their grandchild to the point where he or she is harmed by it. The result is that grandparents will have to go through a court hearing (usually with the child’s parents present) to decide about permission.
If they are successful, a court will go on to ask what is best for their grandchild, and consider what Child Arrangements Order is appropriate. It can be slow and costly both financially and emotionally. Grandparents may not get eaten by the system, but sometimes it can feel a bit like it.
There are ways of avoiding the court process: mediation can work well; or agreeing to see a grandchild when he or she sees mum or dad; or choosing to remain neutral in a dispute between a child’s parents so that you are not punished by association by the withdrawal of contact.
When problems arise it’s important to get good quality advice at an early stage from an experienced and child-focussed solicitor. Not a woodcutter!
The team was named Private Client and Family Law Team of the year at the British Legal Awards 2013. Jo is rated as a ‘Leader in his field’ by independent legal guide Chambers. To contact Jo, please call 01872 265100, email email@example.com or visit www.stephens-scown.co.uk