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Grandparents contact on relationship breakdown

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When there are greater numbers of people in Great Britain over the age of 60 than there are under 16 years old, focus must turn to the older generation and their position and relationships within the family.  In particular the situation that arises on the unfortunate breakdown of those relationships.

Many families in the country are touched in some way by divorce or separation but what happens if the children of the family are prevented from seeing their grandparents simply because one parent has fallen out with the other?  

There may be other reasons why there might be a distancing of the child from his grandparents for example, as a result of divorce or separation of their parents, a death of a parent or a family feud.  

The bond between child and grandparent is often very strong and loving and is often forgotten in the strains of resolving issues of contact between the child and the absent parent.  It is sometimes seen to be difficult enough to ensure that a relationship continues between the child and it's parent without fitting in "extra" time for their grandparents.   It is often the case that the parent's "time" with the child is eaten into as the days that they are allocated during the week, however many they may be, are taken up with visiting members of the family to ensure that those relationships continue.

Of course, there are only so many days during the week and the absent parent may be seen as the priority amongst the other family members.  However, the relationship between the child and his or her grandparents is often on a different level and should be maintained as much as possible in addition to the child spending time with their parent.   To retain those relationships with the older members of the family can only be in the child's best interests, ensuring the stability and a degree of normality when the child may be seeing his parent's relationship as far from this.

How does the Court provide for these relationships to continue? A Grandparent may make an application under s.8 of the Children Act 1989 for an order for contact, residence or other orders relating to the upbringing of a child in their own right, aside from whether the child has contact with their parent

It may be that as a result of a family feud that the parent does not wish the child to have contact with his grandparents despite the fact that the child may want to continue to see them.  The Children Act must, in considering all applications hold the welfare of the child as paramount and should not be swayed by a parent's own personal view.

Technically, the Court requires a Grandparent to seek permission (leave) to make an application (unless the child has lived with his grandparents for at least three years within the 5 years preceding the application).   In the writer's experience, no grandparent has yet been refused permission and the application for leave and the application for contact can be dealt with at the same time so no unnecessary delay occurs.

The Children Act 1989 highlights the importance to "promote contact between the child and his parents and other relatives or persons connected with the child".  The Court would take into account all the circumstances of the case, the wishes and feelings of the child concerned (dependant upon their age and understanding) and the effect on the child of any change in their circumstances and how capable the applicants are of meeting the needs of the child or children.

The application would then proceed and the Court would be in a position to make an order provided to order contact between the child and his grandparents as is necessary and in the child's best interests.

The relationship between the child and his grandparents should be recognised and supported wherever possible, certainly the law provides for this.   The grandparent's influence and support they can unconditionally give is often overlooked in the traumatic events of a relationship breakdown or death of a parent.   In actual fact they may be the very people who can be looked to maintain the security and stability that the children require.

If you require any further advice in relation to this or any other family legal issue, please contact me on 0113 336 3349 or by email r.spencerrobb@clarionsolicitors.com

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