Grandparents play a vital role within the family unit. Many parents find themselves replying on grandparents from an early age in their child’s lives by way of childcare, support, both emotionally and financially, and for advice. Grandparents form strong bonds with their grandchildren and become a significant part of their grandchildren’s lives, often providing them with stability.
Unfortunately, grandparents can often pay the price of being torn away from their grandchildren during divorce, family breakdowns or feuds – leaving both the grandchildren and grandparents heartbroken. Effectively when parents decide their children can no longer see their grandparents it is the children that suffer.
Legally, grandparents are not automatically given the right to have access to their grandchildren. Grandparents need to seek leave (permission) of the Court to make an application for contact with their grandchildren. In the case of Re J (Leave to Issue and Application for Residence Order)  it was confirmed that a Judge cannot dismiss an application for leave without a full enquiry. This gives grandparents the minimum protection of rights under the European Convention of Human Rights – Article 6 – right to fair trial and Article 8 – right and respect for family life. This case further outlines that proper recognition and weight should be given to the statutory checklist set out in Children Act 1989 s10(9). This includes your connection to the child, the nature of your application and whether the application may be harmful to the child’s wellbeing in any way.
If the Court grant you leave to make your application, you are likely to obtain a Child Arrangements Order. This simply sets out who will have contact with the grandchildren and when or whom a child shall live with, depending on the application made. Before this Order can be made, the rules laid out in the Children Act 1989 will apply. Specifically this means that the welfare of the child is paramount when considering the case. In order to assess this, the Court will consider the welfare checklist which sets out criteria for the Court to look at when making a decision regarding a child’s life.
It has been argued that grandparents should not have to apply for leave to make an application to have contact with their grandchildren, and instead should like parents be able to make their application without permission of the Court.
In 2010 the Labour Government recognised the obstacle grandparents need to overcome to have contact with their grandchildren and produced a Green Paper. This sets out their intentions to remove the requirement for grandparents to seek leave of the Court before applying for contact with any grandchildren. However the Family Justice Review who was given the task of looking into this matter and produced their report in 2011 advised against this. The author David Norgrove stated that “Just as ‘contact’ is not a right of the parents but of the child, grandparents do not have a right to ‘contact’.” The review concluded that by keeping the need to apply for leave of the court, it helps to weed out “hopeless or vexatious application”.
Nonetheless, campaigners disagree. Prominently on the 31st January 2017 a Lobby Day took place in Parliament organised by the Hendon Grandparents Support Group. The event was sponsored by Hendon MP, Dr Matthew Offord and speakers included Dame Ester Rantzen and Divorce Lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt. The aim was to raise awareness of the current situation and get more help for grandparents who are denied access to their grandchildren. Ultimately, the campaign is pursuing a change in the law to abolish the condition that grandparents must seek leave from the Court. The campaigners wish to see ongoing support for grandparents to have contact with their grandchildren.
Ken Evans was a campaigner attending the Lobby Day at Parliament in January. Ken spoke on the BBC radio and shared his story. Ken has three grandchildren, one of which he has regular contact with and the other two he unfortunately does not due to a family fall out. Ken stated that he and other grandparents do not want automatic rights to their grandchildren but rather contact should be arranged with the permission of the parents. This contact should benefit the child, giving grandparents the ability to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives.
If you have a story similar to Ken’s, our expert family solicitors are here to help and guide you. Here at PMC Family Law, we recognise that grandparents are vital members of the family unit. We are happy to answer any questions you have in regards to the above. Please contact us today on 0151 375 9968 for your free initial consultation today.