Solicitor, Anne Thistlethwaite, Family Law Specialist with AMD Solicitors welcomes recent moves to increase the rights of Grandparents
Available data from the Office for National Statistics indicates that in 2007 in households with dependent children, 77% were married or cohabiting couples and 23%* were lone parents. Of the lone parents, 20% were lone mothers and the overwhelming majority of absent (non-resident) parents were fathers. It is estimated that there may be as many as 30% of absent fathers who have no contact with their children. Sadly, there will also be many grandparents who lose contact with their grandchildren.
Whilst there is almost unanimous consensus that there are benefits to children in maintained contact with their grandparents, many grandparents find themselves contrary to their own wishes, estranged from their grandchildren. Unless there is cooperation and a positive attitude from the resident parent, children can all too easily lose contact with grandparents and the wider family.
Under the law up until now, no automatic right has existed for grandparents to apply to the Court for help to see their grandchildren. Whereas parents, a step-parent, guardian, or person with whom the child has lived for at least 3 years have an automatic right of application, some grandparents have been devastated when they have been deprived of contact and learnt that no such right extends to them, irrespective of how close their relationship with their grandchildren has been.
Although determined grandparents can seek contact entirely separately from the absent parent, they presently have to go through the significant hurdle of obtaining formal permission from the Court in order to be able to proceed with an application for a Contact Order. This formal application requires the grandparents and the parents to attend a hearing. The Court has the discretion to grant or refuse permission and will have to decide whether it seems likely (at this early stage) that contact will be in the children’s best interest and the overriding principle is that the children’s welfare is the paramount consideration.
In recent days the Government have announced their plan to remove this hurdle for grandparents. This initiative is to be warmly welcomed by solicitors advising grandparents as it will reduce their costs and their levels of anxiety and enable their claims to be progressed without unnecessary delay.
Once the claim for contact is underway, the parties are encouraged to mediate to reach an agreement. This can either be facilitated by local mediation services or, at Court, by a Court appointed officer from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). Where there are issues as to the welfare of the children, the Court may order a detailed report to be prepared by CAFCASS and the appointed officer will visit the children and resident parent and the grandparents to make recommendations.
Mediation services can be accessed outside the Court process. Often they can help separating families to talk through these issues and to resolve things by agreement, thus avoiding the unpleasantness often involved in contested cases. Your solicitor should be able to discuss all these options with you.
Anne Thistlethwaite is an experienced Solicitor and member of AMD’s Family Team. Anne can be contacted for advice on 0117 9621460 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
AMD Solicitors have offices at Henleaze, Clifton and Shirehampton and offer an initial free 30 minute appointment.
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