A question that family lawyers are often asked is what rights do grandparents have to see their grandchildren?
Sadly, they do not currently have an automatic right and if an agreement cannot be reached with the parents, grandparents may be in the unenviable position of having to consider an application to the Court for permission to pursue an application for an Order that provides for the grandchildren to spend time, or otherwise have contact, with them.
Parliament has been asked on a number of occasions to review and amend the law which requires grandparents to seek the Court’s permission before they can pursue an application and whilst this was most recently debated in May 2018, changes have yet to be made.
It is estimated that a third of adults aged over 50 are grandparents and there are 14 million grandparents in the UK. Further statistics show that around 2/3rds of grandparents regularly look after their grandchildren and the relationship between them therefore is usually extremely close.
So it can be tremendously distressing for grandparents if that very close bond is severed as the result of parental separation. Often the grandchildren will not understand why they can no longer spend time with Nanny and Grandad or why Grandad cannot watch them play football or they cannot bake cakes with Nanny.
Grandparents may be able provide some respite for the grandchildren, away from the tension and stress within the family home whilst their parents work out their own future arrangements and it is important therefore, that if the grandparents can focus on their grandchildren’s needs rather than putting one parent before the other, these relationships should be allowed to continue.
Every attempt should be made to try and resolve the issues between the adults and often, this can be achieved through discussions within the family. Otherwise, professional assistance from mediation or family therapy should be considered.
Even if the grandparents are being denied the opportunity for their grandchildren to spend time with them, they may still be able to send cards and letters or speak on the telephone. Careful consideration should be given to the content of these communications to ensure that they are not overly emotional or laying any blame or seen to be supporting one parent over the other. In time, when the tensions have eased, contact may well resume.
If all else fails however, grandparents do have the ability to ask the Court to grant them permission to make an application. Some legal advice beforehand would be useful in these circumstances