Grandparents have a very important role to play in the lives of their grandchildren. However, grandparents can sometimes be seriously affected if their child divorces.  When a relationship breaks down, the first consideration where children are involved is who they are going to live with and how much time they will spend with the parent who is no longer going to be living in the family home. As family solicitors we are approached by parents on a daily basis who face the dilemma of deciding how they are going to agree and implement arrangements for their child as soon one parent lives elsewhere.

However, it is not just parents who are to be considered. In a society which is becoming increasingly busy, parents often seek help from members of the wider family to assist with looking after children, in particular grandparents. Sadly, when a relationship ends things may not be so straightforward and there is often conflict between grandparents and parents relating to the children.

Grandparents play a vital role in the lives of grandchildren. During a family break up they can often find themselves feeling powerless and believing that have few options. They fear they are going to be prevented from spending as much time with their grandchildren or that contact may be stopped altogether.

There are over 14 million grandparents in the UK, and it is estimated that over one million children are denied contact with their grandparents, following a divorce or similar breakdown of family relationships. The Government has also recognised the importance of the role of grandparents. It has laid down plans for those grandparents who are working to be able to take time off during parental leave to help care for their grandchildren. This is something which is hoped to take effect in 2018.

In some cases, one parent may decide to cease contact between the children and their grandparents without giving any real consideration for what is best for the children and without thought of the effect that the loss of contact may have. Grandparents who find themselves in this type of situation can be reassured that there are many options available to them to try and reinstate the relationship.

Grandparents Plus (incorporating the Grandparents Association) is a registered national charity, whose fundamental aim is to support those grandparents who have lost contact, or who are in fact looking after their grandchildren on a full time basis and have become their carers. The charity offers a readily accessible helpline, which grandparents are able to access where they can discuss their issues and try and find a resolution.

In addition to this the charity has numerous support groups, which have been established across the country. Hannah Nicholls, a family solicitor at Thursfields and a volunteer for Grandparents Plus runs a support group at the Kingswinford Community Centre once every month for grandparents who have lost contact with their grandchildren. Hannah is very positive about the group: “Grandparents who attend the support group are able to share their stories and help each other with advice on how to tackle these stressful and difficult issues. Being able to meet others who have been through the same experience is often invaluable in terms of helping with emotional support.”

For those grandparents who wish to take more formal action, making an application to the court is also an option. They can make an application for a Child Arrangements Order, which sets out the amount of time they can spend with their grandchildren. However, before making the application grandparents must first apply for permission from the court.  This is normally granted. In all cases the primary consideration of the court will be the welfare of any children involved. The court will then make an overall decision based on what is felt to be in the children’s best interests.

Prior to making any such application grandparents should be advised of the process and the costs involved, which can be significant.

As an alternative to court, grandparents can seek to attend family mediation, should the other party or parties agree. This would enable those involved to discuss and address the issues faced in a supportive environment with the aim of reaching a way forward that will be beneficial to the children. Grandparents can find out more information at www.nfm.org.uk/grandparents.

For further information please contact Hannah Nicholls on 01562 512479 or email: hnicholls@thursfields.co.uk

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