A Grandparents Guide: Guest Blog by Raworths Family Law
A grandparent’s role is a precious one. Most grandparents idolise their grandchildren and in return their grandchildren thrive from this special bond. Grandparents have a wealth of experience in bringing up children, they often have more time and patience than parents have, and can provide children with a sense of family history.
Prior to a separation grandparents may wear many hats, they are often entertainer, advisor, babysitter, taxi driver and financial supporter, however when couples separate many grandparents find their role suddenly changing and the precious time that they had always spent with the grandchildren can either stop or be reduced significantly. Testament to this, it is reported that in 2016 there were over 1 million grandchildren currently being denied contact with their grandparents.
It is all too common that grandparents can get caught in the middle during family separations. Loyalties can become challenged with feelings split between the parent, who is still their own child, and the former partner. This is a difficult balancing act as many grandparents are fearful of losing contact with their grandchildren altogether if they do not manage the situation well.
Unfortunately, in some separations battle lines are drawn and family members take separate sides. This is understandable as it’s human nature to ‘protect your cub’, but quite often this approach doesn’t help. During separations children often feel stuck in the middle and this is when grandparent’s support can be invaluable. Separation is a time when children will need a sense of normality, they will try to keep hold of all that they have known in the face of change and uncertainty. Guidance and support from grandparents can be a crucial factor in helping children cope with their parent’s separation, giving them someone who can be a trusted and neutral voice.
Having said this, it often comes as a surprise to many grandparents who seek advice that they don’t have the same automatic legal right to spend time with their grandchildren as parents have. This doesn’t mean that an application cannot be made to the court, it simply means that there are additional processes that will need to be followed to enable a grandparent to make an application.
Bearing this in mind here are some top tips to help grandparents to try to avoid potential problems:
Try to reach an agreement with the children’s parents directly, either in person or by letter email or telephone. Keeping a dialogue open is important no matter how difficult it may prove. Try to keep discussions as unemotional as possible and always be ready to compromise.
You may often be called upon for advice and support by either parent. It is important that you are a good listener but that you try to stay neutral and view matters from the perspective of the children. This is often easier said than done, but the stability and supporting role grandparents can provide at these times can be invaluable for both the children and their parents.
Don’t get into blaming either parent, it will not help. Remember the parents are in control of this situation and you will need to work with them to reach an amicable agreement. It often doesn’t matter who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ what matters is that a relationship is maintained with the grandchildren.
It is important for everybody to put their cards on the table and be clear about what their aim is whilst making a decision that is in the best interests of the children.
Consider mediation or family therapy so that all parties can sit down together to try to reach an agreement that will benefit the children. However, for mediation to work all parties will need to agree to attend and usually this will need to be privately funded which will also be a consideration.
Either at the outset, or if the above steps have been tried and exhausted, seek advice from a resolution accredited lawyer, who in certain circumstances may be able to suggest alternative options to try to reach an agreement, such as roundtable meetings, collaborative law or writing to both parents to try to reach an agreement that works for all parties.
If all else fails, an application can be made to the court, although grandparents do not have an automatic right to be able to make such an application and first would need the permission of the court. Many factors would be taken into consideration when deciding upon such an application but most importantly the court would consider what was in the children’s best interest and how any changes from their previous situation would affect their social, emotional and educational well-being.
Although an application to the court is a last resort, the valuable role that grandparents play is recognised. Generally, unless there is a good reason not to grant permission to make an application – such as a safety concern for the children – it is usually seen to be in the children’s best interest to maintain the relationship with their grandparents. Each case will however be decided on its own specific facts and a specialist family lawyer can advise upon such merits from the outset.
A grandparent’s role should never be underestimated and it’s important that the key adults work together to maintain this special relationship. Never forgetting that grandparents are the roots to our family tree – they keep us grounded, safe and stable whilst providing us with all we need to grow.