During a divorce or when a relationship breaks down, there are so many people who are affected. For starters, the parents will start fighting for the custody of their children. In the process, grandparents, most often than not, usually find themselves ostracised and left pretty much out of the entire process, and out of the family. Given that most grandparents do have a strong bond with their grandchildren, and that they play a critical role in their upbringing, being separated from them will certainly be heart-breaking. Unfortunately, not many grandparents know their rights when something like this happens, which is what we are going to discuss in this article.
What rights do grandparents have?
The truth is, as a grandparent, you most certainly don’t have an automatic right to see your grandchildren. However, you can apply to the family courts for permission if you can’t reach an agreement with the parents. The reasoning behind this is that in child arrangement cases, whoever is applying must have parental responsibility, which a grandparent can only obtain through a child arrangement order. Now, with this permission, you will be able to apply to see your grandchildren under the Children Act (1989). Once you make your application, the court will, first and foremost, consider your connection to the child or children, and will also go further to determine whether ordering contact will be in the best interest of the grandchildren. Of course, this is where your bond with the grandchildren will come into play, in that if you had a strong bond with them – which you must prove beyond any reasonable doubt – then the court may look at your application favourably, but if you had never seen them before in their lives, or maybe you saw them infrequently, then your application might not be considered. For the record, if you convince the court – by explaining the role you played in your grandchildren’s life – then it is unlikely that the court will reject your application.
What should I do first?
For starters, the more you can keep the relationship with the parents going and maintain communication with both of them, the better. When contacting both parents, don’t take sides, and remember that you are doing this for the good of the grandchildren. Also, don’t antagonize the situation. Write them a letter or send an email. When you write, at least you will be able to choose your words very carefully, and also explain clearly the level of support you want to offer to the family. Realistically, this doesn’t always work as some situations might be hostile, where you may even receive negative responses following your attempts. In such a case, you can do it through a letter sent via tracked/signed postage, which you could easily present in court as evidence that you tried to maintain contact.
Secondly, you can try family mediation through a professional family mediator. You never know, maybe you might reach an agreement on how you can spend time with your grandkids. So, book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM), where you will present your case to the mediator, and if the mediation is suitable in your case, then the mediator will invite the parents to mediation. If the invitation is accepted, then the place and date for the next MIAM will be set. But note this, if the mediator deems mediation inappropriate, he or she will issue a mediation certificate, which will allow you to make your application in court. In fact, before making the application, you are required to have attended a MIAM, in most cases.
Thirdly, you can now involve a family court, as we mentioned earlier. This should be the last option, though we can also admit that sometimes it’s the only way available. Normally, courts don’t like meddling in children’s affairs, and most often recommend mediation. But in cases where the adults can’t find a way forward, the courts are left with no other choice but to intervene, for the good of the children.
What will the court consider when giving its judgment?
If the parents and grandparents don’t reach an agreement, of course, the matter will be taken to court. Now, in its judgment, the judge will consider a lot of evidence, amongst other things, the grandparent’s relationship with the grandchild as well as the nature of the application. Also, the judge has to consider what might happen if contact with the grandchildren is allowed – will it be harmful to the kids, and also if contact is allowed to continue, would it have a negative impact on the kids’ lives and the family at large? These are just some of the things that a judge will have to consider before granting you access to see your grandkids. Remember, if the parents raise an objection against you seeing their children, the case might get even more complex and you will have to attend a hearing, where each party will need to present their case together with strong evidence.
How to apply for grandparents’ rights?
Step 1 – attend a MIAM – just like we mentioned earlier before you make an application to the court, you are required to have at least attempted mediation with an accredited mediator. Only those with cases that are exempted from mediation are allowed to skip this stage. If the mediation isn’t successful, the mediator will grant a mediation certificate which you will have to produce in court when making your application. Please note, the average cost for a MIAM is around 100-300 GBP.
Step 2 – C100 application – if the mediation failed, and you were given a mediation certificate, the next step will be to apply to the court, which can be done by filling the C100 application form. This form can be found online, and you can either complete it online or print it out. Filling this form can be tricky, which is why it is recommended that you seek help from a family attorney. Now, remember when mentioned that you need to apply for permission before making your application? Well, it means that you will also need to complete a supplementary form – the C2. As a grandparent, always remember the reason why you are doing all this is because of the children. So, ensure that your application is focused on why the kid should be allowed to have contact with you.
The application fee is around 215 GBP, which is paid to the court. But if you have some challenges paying this fee – may be because you are a bit low on finances – don’t worry! There are other ways in which you can raise the money. The best way is to use the government’s help with fees eligibility checker, which will help you clear the court fees, thereby taking all your stress away. If you are a low-income earner and have been receiving welfare benefits, you are more likely to be eligible for the help, and as grandparents, since you may no longer be working, it is recommended that you check it out.
Step 3- Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) – once the court receives the application, and probably decides to let you spend time with your grandchildren, it will have to determine what sort of contact will be in the best interest of the child. The court may decide to allow you to contact the grandkids directly or indirectly. Direct contact is where you see your grandkids face to face. On the other hand, indirect contact involves things like letters and telephone calls. The court will appoint a CAFCASS officer who will work with all the parties involved, where he or she will look into all the issues raised concerning the child’s welfare. Afterward, he/she will write a report which will be submitted to the court to assist in determining the case, including the contact arrangements. The parties involved in the proceedings will receive a copy of the report as well. If the report strongly recommends for contact to be allowed, maybe you can try to convince the parents to allow contact with the children. If they are stubborn and refuse your request, then the case will continue as planned.
Step 4 – court hearing – most people are often afraid or nervous to attend a court hearing, and it is understandable. But the truth is, a family court is all about helping families when there are disagreements. So, there is no reason to feel that way. Ehen it comes to the court hearing, the environment created is much more supportive, given that everyone involved understands that there is a child involved in the proceedings. On that day, the applicant (you) and the respondents (the child’s parents) will present their case and provide their evidence. You will be asked to explain how involved you have been in the child(ren) lives and what impact you had with them. In its decision, the court will consider all this evidence, plus the CAFCASS report, which comes in recommendations. The decision, whichever it may be, will certainly be in the best interest of the child and will outline how the contact will be going forward.
What will happen if the parents disobey the orders?
We live in the real world, so, of course, you can expect something like this, and quite frankly, it’s very frustrating. But when it happens, you can always take the case back to court and explain to the judge that the order has been breached. The judge has the power to enforce the ruling and might even punish the individuals who have disregarded the original order.
Some helpful tips for when you are fighting to see your grandchildren
Try to maintain the peace – No matter how desperate you may be, you have to maintain your cool, as you stand to lose a lot when you address this issue with force or threatening the parents to let you see their kids. Remember, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, grandparents’ rights in the UK are not automatic over the grandchildren, but the parents have the right to decide who their children should see, which means, the less inflammatory you can keep negotiations, the better for everybody. Also, in every attempt you make to bridge the gap, ensure that you document it. This will help you greatly either when mediating in a MIAM, or in a family court. But the family court should be the very last option, after all the other options have failed.
Don’t be drastic – as we mentioned, the court should always be the very last option. So, try speaking to the parents, and try to convince them that you just want to be present in the child’s life. If you are genuine, the parents may begin to understand how important it is for you to have a relationship with their child(ren). Don’t threaten to take legal action when things don’t go your way after the first conversation, as it will only increase tensions unnecessarily. Take your time! Maybe later in the process, if the communication is not working, then you can take legal action. And remember, when talking to the parent(s) don’t do it in front of the children, as such interactions always have the possibility of getting heated, and you don’t want that to happen in the presence of the kids.
Consider mediation – as we have insisted countless times in this article, always consider mediation. It may be emotionally testing for all parties involved, but you can’t overlook the importance of a long, adult discussion that’s overseen by an accredited mediator. After all, court battles are long and expensive too, so if you can avoid them, the better for you and your relationship with your grandchildren.
Do I need a family lawyer?
If everything else fails, and you don’t have any other option other than applying to the court, of course hiring a family attorney to help you with the application and also present your case to the judge might seem like the perfect idea. But one thing you need to remember here is that the welfare of the child is the main issue of contention and not your feelings. And remember also that, yes, you may decide to hire a lawyer, but if your application is rejected, you will be back to square one with the parent. So basically, what we are trying to say is that you need to think carefully before you involve a lawyer. But if the relationship between you and the parents is broken, then you can go ahead, knowing that there is nothing else you can do.
Sadly, there are so many grandparents in the UK who face separation from their grandkids after the parents, who in this case are their sons or daughters, separates from their partners. While there are several options for them to establish contact with their grandchildren, most of the grandparents aren’t aware of these options. But after reading this article, they certainly have an idea of what they can do to see their grandkids again. Always remember, start with the peaceful options first before going to the court.