Grandparents and disputes involving grandchildren
Unless specified, this information relates only to England and Wales. If you live in Scotland, go to Parenting across Scotland for information and advice. If you live in Northern Ireland, go to NI direct.
When your daughter or son is separating from their partner, it is a difficult and emotional time. However in terms of trying to continue a relationship with your grandchildren it is important to remain neutral. Put yourself in the ex-partner’s shoes. If someone was critical of you, would you be keen for them to spend time with or contact your child?
Keep in mind that most family relationships are naturally informal between grandparents and grandchildren. As a first step, it would be unusual for grandparents to take a legal approach against a parent who has decided, for whatever reason, to stop grandchildren spending time with their grandparents. Try to talk with the parent about how you feel and how you still want to be part of your grandchildren’s lives.
Be willing to see the grandchildren at their home as you may have done previously. Try to make life easier for the ex-partner because separated parents – like couples who live together – may welcome assistance with childcare, picking up children from school and having a trusted family member to look after the children over night to allow them to socialise.
Keep your conversations with the other parent focused on the children and remain neutral. This can be really difficult to do but it is important not take sides between the parents, however much you may be tempted to do so, and however much you may think that the other parent is in the wrong.
Grandparents do not have automatic legal rights to see their grandchildren if there is a disagreement. There are several ways of trying to reach an agreement about spending time with your grandchildren in such situations.
Anyone making a court application for a child arrangements order is legally required to consider mediation before applying to the family court to resolve a dispute unless exempt from that requirement. Mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) are designed to help families reach mutual agreements about disagreements following divorce or separation, including those involving children. They can also save legal costs when issues are agreed. Such meetings are required to have taken place before a dispute can be heard in court. If mediation is not appropriate, or is attempted but fails to resolve the disagreement, then the matter can proceed to court.
Grandparents must additionally seek the permission of the court to apply for a child arrangements order. These orders replace ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’ and can decide:
- where a child lives
- who a child spends time with and when
- what types of communication, such as face-to-face contact or phone calls, should take place between the child and a person or persons named in the order
Unlike parents, grandparents have to seek permission from the court to apply for a child arrangements order using a C2 form. This form is an application asking the court to allow you to start proceedings or join ongoing proceedings.
However, the welfare of the child is the court’s primary concern in such cases. After the court has heard evidence from all of the parties (possibly including evidence from the child) the court will make a decision based on what is in the child’s best interests.
A family court may rule that indirect contact is the preferred method for contact with grandchildren.
Indirect contact can be anything other than face to face which can include birthday cards, letters and gifts. Any message should be supportive of the grandchild and non-critical of their parent. Otherwise it may be seen as an attempt to influence the grandchild against the parent involved in the dispute. Contact such as phone calls, email, text and webcam can be described as indirect contact, but given the real time nature of these methods of communication, it would normally be specified explicitly by the family court.
If it is impossible to talk face to face, with your child’s ex-partner following their divorce or separation, you could write or email the parent or carer who is preventing you from seeing your grandchild. You can find model letters on the internet which may assist resolving the dispute informally demonstrating your impartiality between any disputes that both parents may have.
Where can I go next?
Family Mediation Council
The Family Mediation Council is the umbrella professional body for family mediators. Visit their website to find out more about family mediation and to search for a local family mediator.
Grand Parents Plus
Grandparents Plus is the national charity (England and Wales) which champions the vital role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives.
National Family Mediations
Download a free leaflet on the role mediation can play in helping Grandparents and grandchildren after separation or divorce.