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One of our clients came to us because they no longer had contact with their grandchildren. Their son and his partner had split up and his ex-partner is now not allowing the children to have contact with them. Do grandparents have rights when they have been denied access to their grandchildren?
The sad truth is that grandparents have no automatic rights to contact with their grandchildren. However, family courts do recognise the important role that grandparents play in their grandchildren’s lives and it is very rare that the court would refuse a grandparent access to grandchildren unless there is evidence of abuse or violence. It makes no difference whether the parents of the grandchildren were married or not.
In the first instance it is advisable to try and negotiate with the parents for contact, pointing out the emotional and practical support you’re offering, and show how useful that could be to the parents. Mediation may help.
It is often trickier to continue with contact if it is your son’s children, as often the mother has custody. However, research has shown where the paternal grandparents remain in contact with the children, their sons have greater contact too.
As a last resort, contact can be established through the courts.
Only people with parental responsibility, for example parents, step-parents or guardians have an automatic right to make an application to Court.
Grandparents will need to apply for “leave” (ie permission) to apply for a Court Order.
You must attend a meeting about mediation before you can apply to a court, unless you’re exempt (for example, because domestic violence is involved).
If you still want to apply to court after the mediation session, you need to use form C100 and send it to your nearest family court. This costs £215, but you may get help paying for the fee. For details see: www.gov.uk/contact-grandchild-parents-divorce-separate
If the court gives permission, you can then apply for a Court Order to gain access to your grandchildren. If one or both parents raise objections you are likely to have to attend a full hearing in which both sides can put forward their evidence. It is essential that you receive good legal advice at this stage because you will need to persuade the court that you have a meaningful and on-going relationship with your grandchildren, which significantly benefits their lives.
The court will always consider all the child’s circumstances and must only make an order where they consider it better for the child than making no order at all. For example, they might have to weigh up whether your continuing contact with the child might have a negative impact on the rest of the family relationships. However, it is only in extreme circumstance that a court will refuse access to grandchildren.
For more information and help see: www.grandparentsplus.org.uk
For help with this or other problems, please contact us via Advice line South on 03444 111 306 or pop in and see us