"The older you get the more capable you get at managing life."
The McAlister Family Law Children team helps Grandparents to understand their Grandparents’ rights and maintain contact with their grandchildren following divorce, separation or other family estrangement.
It is a sad fact that when parents separate, disputes in relation to children of the family can not only include estrangement from a parent but, extend to wider family members and particularly Grandparents who can often be stuck in between parent’s arguments.
Increasingly, Grandparents play greater roles in care of their Grandchildren as hard- pressed parents juggle busy home and work lives which is why understand Grandparents’ rights is more important than ever. Providing unpaid childcare and helping with the school run being just two of the many tasks a Grandparent might undertake. When a relationship breaks down, the impact on a Grandparent can be much greater than might have been the case, through no fault of their own and a child’s emotional wellbeing can be at risk when losing such close relationships. It is important to get advice at an early stage to ensure the relationships and existing arrangements are maintained. If a parent is obstructing your relationship with a Grandchild, you may be able to get an order to maintain your contact.
Legally speaking, there are no Grandparents’ rights, as usually grandparents do not have “Parental Responsibility” in the same way as a parent might have, although they might acquire it if a parent is unable to care. However, the Family Court recognises that it is in a child’s best interests to maintain good relationships with close family members, particularly Grandparents, even if the parent of the child cannot, and as such, a court order called a Child Arrangements Order may be obtained to protect such relationships.
All mothers and most fathers have Parental Responsibility which refers to the legal rights and responsibilities a parent in respect of a child, the most important of which are to provide a home and protect and look after a child. When parents or carers of a child cannot agree in respect to exercising of Parental Responsibility, such as in relation of what school a child should attend or whether it should have medical treatment, the court can make a Specific Issue Order. Having Parental Responsibility does not confer “rights” to see a child, as rights to know a parent belong to a child themselves. A Grandparent would not usually have Parental Responsibility may acquire it, for example if it were to obtain an order to care for a child in placement of a parent, for whatever reason.
Grandparents do not have an automatic right to see a Grandchild and above all, whatever the relationship between estranged parents, it is important to step back and try to avoid becoming involved in any disagreement, which is hard to do when it is your own child involved. Maintaining good relationships with the other parent goes a long way in avoiding difficulties further down the line.
Yes, but Grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply to court to see a Grandchild in the same way as a parent may apply to see and spend time with their own child. However, the Family Court would rarely refuse permission (or leave) for a Grandparent to make an application, providing there is no good welfare reason why it should not, providing they can show a close and enduring relationship exists. Also, as a family member, permission is not required if a child has lived with a Grandparent for a period of 1 year prior to the application being made.
It is important that early advice from an experienced child and family lawyer. Time can be of the essence and leaving matters too long can engrain difficult circumstances. Unless there are urgent circumstances, getting an initial court hearing will take a minimum of four weeks or more in any event, and as a first step, you will be required to attend upon a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to see if it possible to resolve matters with the assistance of a Mediator.
The court could make a Child Arrangement Order for a Grandchild to spend time with a Grandparent, in the same way as it could for a parent. Each family is different though and as such no two cases are the same. Just because you may have heard that one Grandparent has obtained a certain order, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will.
When a parent or parents are unable to look after their own child then the Local Authority social services are obliged to first consider whether a family member is able to care for a child, rather than looking outside the family for a foster carer or even adoptive placement, which are a last resort. Grandparents often find themselves as the first port of call. When a child is placed to live with a family carer who is a relative or friend of their own parents, the carers are often referred to as kinship carers. A large proportion of kinship carers are Grandparents who often find that just when their days of caring for their own children are over, they are required to start again.
Being a kinship carer is a rewarding but difficult task and as a kinship carer, you may need advice on securing the best arrangement you can in the event that you are asked to care for a child by social services. The best arrangement for your Grandchild may require obtaining advice in respect of the type of court order needed to protect your Grandchild’s placement with you or securing financial support so that you are able to give up work to look after a grandchild as an alternative to them being placed outside the family.
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