Added: (Tue Feb 07 2006)
Pressbox (Press Release) -
The breakdown of a marriage or long term partnership can be upsetting for all concerned. But for grandparents it can be even more so if contact with grandchildren is denied.
Over the years case law has developed to provide a presumption of contact in favour of absent parents (usually the father) but this is not the case with grandparents which is rather a sad fact.
Visits with grandparents are a precious and integral part of a child’s experience. The loving and nurturing relationship between grandparents and a grandchild often provides the child with intangible benefits that cannot be derived from other relationships.
Grandparents influence their grandchildren both directly and indirectly. Direct influence comes from face to face interaction talking to them, taking them on trips etc. When your grandchild has been confronted with a situation a grandparent is able to support them and know that you are on their side. Therefore a grandparent indirectly influences them by emotionally being there. A grandparent is a role model and can be a number of things, stress-buster, a watchdog, arbitrator, family historian and a supporter.
Increasingly, however, grandchildren often the product of broken homes, have been deprived of contact with their grandparent and lose that very special relationship.
So what should a grandparent do if they fear they might lose contact rights?
The first step is to approach the child’s mother or father and explain that no matter what the problems are between the parents you as a grandparent do not intend to take sides but that you only wish to maintain contact with your grandchildren.
If that is not successful you can try mediation. For this to take place both sides have to agree to mediate. It is not a compulsory process although many Courts are now attempting to make it so.
The final resort is an application to the Court. Here grandparents are at a disadvantage compared to parents since there is no presumption of contact and it is necessary to apply for leave to make an application. This is the first hurdle. The parent may object in which case the Court must be persuaded, usually by way of a full hearing, that you had a meaningful and ongoing relationship with your grandchild and that it is in his or her best interests for your relationship with him or her to continue.
If that hurdle is crossed your application will then be considered. More often than not because of allegations being made there will be welfare issues to be determined and the Court will appoint a CAFCASS Officer to prepare a Report which will be presented to the Court. These take from between 12 – 16 weeks to complete. If the report is favourable, the mother may still not agree which will mean a full hearing with both sides having to give evidence.
What happens if the Court makes an order and the mother or father still does not allow contact?
Unfortunately, enforcing contact in the United Kingdom is extremely difficult. The Courts, in the past have been very reluctant to enforce orders, the remedy being to imprison mothers. They are becoming more robust but the situation is far from perfect.
It is important, therefore that when there are problems, legal advice is sought about the options open. Early advice will allow you to understand your options and act in an appropriate way so as not to unsettle what could be a very delicate situation.
For advice on your rights as a grandparent contact Carol Whereat on 01285 885420 or visit www.divorce-lawfirm.co.uk.