Grandparents: the 'forgotten party' in contact proceedings
They are universally acknowledged as having a distinctive and often key role in the family unit, but what happens to grandparents when things go wrong? Many find themselves concerned that they will be unable to enjoy contact with their grandchildren as they have done in the past, but often know little about options that may be open to them.
In the event that a relationship breakdown occurs, many families will operate just as they have done, without ever formalising any arrangements. Sadly, things are not always amicable and in these circumstances, it is open to grandparents to look into the prospect of bringing legal proceedings and apply for a formal court Order in respect of contact or even residence.
A 'contact' order will provide for the grandparent(s) to see their grandchildren , whereas a residence order relates to whom the child will live with, and where.
Grandparents find themselves in a unique position- the law does not offer them the automatic right to see their grandchildren, which is often contrary to a grandparent’s logic or understanding. In the event that they are looking to obtain an Order, the first port of call is to see whether court proceedings are already in motion- if they are, the grandparents can be joined as a party (which means that they officially take part in the proceedings) and then make the application.
Alternatively, it will be necessary to apply to the court for permission to make an application for contact or residence. If this is successful, the court will then determine the outcome of the application itself. Each case is different but ultimately, the court's approach will always be focused upon the child and what is in their best interests, and is governed by the 'Welfare Checklist' in s1(3) of the Children Act 1989. This requires the court to take into account factors such as the child’s own wishes if they are able to convey these, the likely effect of any change in circumstances, and any harm that the child may suffer or have already suffered.
This is an issue that is gaining prominence and receiving ever more press coverage. Disputes involving grandparents can be difficult and overwhelming, but there are sources of help.
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