How to keep in touch with your grandchildren after their parents divorce
When a couple with children decide to separate, their decision affects the whole family, including two sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other extended family.
Often it’s the grandparents who step up to offer both practical and emotional support, from taking on more childcare, to being a ‘shoulder to cry on’ for the divorcing parents and providing financial assistance in many cases.
And, sadly, it’s also often one set of grandparents who are sidelined or even refused contact to grandchildren, just when the grandkids may actually need them most.
Ties that bind
At LGFL Ltd, we believe it’s important that, as far as possible, family ties are maintained, especially between grandchildren and their grandparents. This particularly applies to grandparents where the children stay with the parent who is not their child. Extended family relationships add to a child’s identity and are vital for their emotional wellbeing in most circumstances. We encourage our clients to put aside their own personal feelings against their soon to be ex in laws and focus on their child’s needs.
In law, grandparents have no automatic legal right to see their grandchildren when a couple have divorced (or indeed, even before). Many divorced couples sort out contact details informally, but where the parents don’t agree, a court order might be required.
Child Arrangement Orders
Under the Children and Families Act 2014, there are two main types of Child Arrangement Orders that set down:
- Which parent the children will live with
- Who the children can spend time with
The type you require as a grandparent wanting access to your grandchildren is a Child Arrangements order for contact. This will include where, when and how you can contact the grandchildren, such as in person or by phone.
Child Arrangements Orders for grandparental access
It’s important to stress that you need permission first and, as the Government Briefing paper says,
“A grandparent typically first requires the leave of the court before they can apply – they are not automatically entitled to apply for a child arrangements order.”
There are a few exceptions where you can apply direct, including if you already are a guardian or special guardian of your grandchildren, or they have lived with you for longer than three years within the last five years.
The process will start with a compulsory Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Once you have completed this, and if a resolution is not reached, you need to ask the court’s permission to apply for a court order. You can only apply if that permission is granted.
When considering your application, the court will always consider the child’s welfare, safety and personal wishes. There is also a set fee for applying for a court order, currently standing at £215.
What the court will consider
When considering your application, the judge or magistrate at court will always put the welfare of children first and apply the Welfare Checklist. They will think about the:
- child’s wishes and feelings
- child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- effect any changes may have on the child
- child’s age, gender, characteristics and background
- possible risk of harm to the child
- ability of parents to meet the child’s needs
- orders the court has the power to make
A judge or magistrate will only make an order if they think it’s in the child’s best interests.
It goes without saying that the child’s links to their grandparents and attachment will be considered within the above context. The court will also consider any Child Arrangement that applies to the non-resident parent and how this will be impacted.
When court orders don’t work
If feelings are running high and the parent doesn’t comply with a contact order, for no reasonable reason, you can ask the court to enforce it. While the court can fine or even imprison someone for disobeying an order, it will still place the welfare of the child above all other considerations.
Taking in the grandchildren
If your grandchildren are to live with you, again you need to apply for a Child Arrangements Order to that effect. However, you will not receive any financial benefit from the government apart from their Child benefit. However, you can apply for a Special Guardianship Order, which may result in a regular payment being made to you.
How to see your grandkids without conflict
If you’re struggling to see your grandchildren amid the heat and arguments of a child’s divorce, Grandparents Plus website has some practical tips.
- Talk through how you can keep in contact with your grandchild.
- Don’t get drawn into a conflict; step back and keep calm and focus on your grandchildren and their needs
- Remind both parents of the practical support you can, or already do give, from babysitting to collecting children from school and that you are not taking sides
- Offer a wider viewpoint on how children will miss out on a sense of family history and an appreciation of their wider family and their identity
- If face to face contact is not possible, suggest you can maintain contact with letters, emails and presents for special occasions
We can help too
To this list we’d add, ask LGFL to help. We can arrange a mediation session to enable all parties to meet on neutral ground and discuss the issues. Such discussions can lead to an agreement without the need to for costly and potentially drawn-out court order applications.
We can also help with child arrangement letters that offer an impartial and formal way to firm up agreements without the need for face-to-face contact. Before court proceedings are issued, we will always try and resolve matters via correspondence from you. Sometimes a party just needs a little time to reflect on their position.
Call us to arrange a free, no-obligation 30-minute consultation to discuss your situation at our discreet offices just outside Reading.