When families go through a divorce or separation the focus is usually on the children’s relationship with each of their parents and the practical and emotional consequences of the arrangements that are put in place. However what about the extended family? The radio programme The Archers has recently been in the news for its story line about domestic abuse and the effects that an abusive relationship can have on both the victim and also the wider family. The story line moved to the Family Court where the grandparents were trying to obtain contact with their grandchild whilst the child’s mother was in prison awaiting trial for stabbing the child’s stepfather who had been abusive to her. Whilst inevitably soap operas sensationalise matters, there are certainly many grandparents who can find themselves in a situation where they are denied a relationship with their grandchildren once their child’s relationship has broken down. If that does occur what are they able to do?
Grandparents do not have an automatic right to make an application to the court for contact with their grandchild in the same way that a parent is able to do. The first step therefore is to apply to the court for leave to make an application. The court will consider the following factors when deciding whether to grant leave:The nature of the proposed application (how much contact is being asked for)
The closeness of the child to the grandparent and
Any risk there might be of the proposed application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that the child is harmed by it.
Before making an application for leave to apply for a Child Arrangements Order, the grandparent must first of all attend a mediation information and assessment meeting to see whether matters can be resolved without the need for court involvement.
If leave is granted then the grandparent can apply for a Child Arrangements Order. In making any order the court is guided by the welfare principle (Section 1 of The Children Act 1989) and therefore what is in the best interests of the child. If the court does make an order about contact, that could be direct or indirect (for example through letters, emails, Skype, telephone calls).
Inevitably court proceedings can be very expensive. They can be lengthy and can involve a number of hearings. Where it is at all possible therefore to reach agreement without the need for court proceedings it does make sense to do so and mediation and/or
|The team and the mayor at a recent charity event
celebrating 30 years.
family therapy can be very useful ways of achieving that.
For more information about the above or in relation to family law matters please contact either Heather Weavill or Steven Barrett at Alison Fielden & Co. on 01285 653261 or www.alisonfielden.co.uk