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'Grandparents, we love you'

Date:25 APR 2017
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Family law expert, Lawyer
Stala Charalambous is a family law expert

There are no emotional winners in a divorce or separation. What separating parents must also remember is that, through no fault of their own, the children and other members of their family may be hurting.

Realising that a relationship has come to an end can be traumatic. Having shared your life with a partner, built a home and a family unit together, you now face decisions of how to separate (both physically and your assets), tell everyone and go forward to build a separate life. A life where perhaps 'We' becomes 'I'.

No one need be alone. There is a plethora of help and information available to assist. A charity I am registered with, Care for the Family, offers information for families, separating couples and those going through bereavement. The charity believes that 'every family should have somewhere to turn for support in both the good times and when family life is challenging'.

The process of separation may leave a void, like a bereavement, not just for the separating couple but also for the children and extended family. This can have a devastating effect on the children if not handled sensitively and in a caring manner. Keeping family close and surrounding the children with family members from both parents will make them feel loved and secure. This will equip them for the future.

Just because you are separating from living with the parent of your child does not mean that you cannot have a civilised conversation and relationship with both the parent of your child and that parent's family. In the heat of the moment, you may feel it is easier to move on with your life by cutting all ties with anyone associated with your partner who you plan soon to make your 'ex'. Think again. Think outside of the box.

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Children love to be loved and to have the security of knowing they are loved. Grandparents love to love and to pamper and make a fuss of their grandchildren. Creation is amazing.

Where everyone has shared in the family unit growing with the addition of a child, a void is left if family ties are severed and the child is isolated from family members. If not handled with care, a child will not only have to deal with the changes in the daily routine and family unit, but if denied access and contact with the extended family, there will be a void. A void in the child's life and also in the grandparents'. Grandparents may have actively helped with childcare. Children will have developed a bond and relationship of trust with the grandparents. Why take that away? Why add to a child's pain and loss?

Grandparents Plus is a national charity foundered by Jean Stogdon and Lord Young of Dartington (who also founded the Open University and other organisations) that highlights the importance of the role of 'Grandparents and the wider family'.

Grandparents feel helpless when parents decide to separate and they feel they do not have any say as to whether they can see their grandchildren. Grandparents, you do have options.

Parents should try to agree the child arrangements as to with whom and where the children should live each day of the week. Grandparents can try to reach an agreement with parents that they can have contact with their grandchildren; what type of contact this will include (for example visiting, Skype, email, telephone or text) and the frequency. Grandparents should also respect the parents' role in raising their child and also the parents' and children's timetable and other commitments. A child-focused Child Arrangements Plan will benefit the child.

In the event that parents and grandparents cannot agree the child arrangements, they should seek assistance from a Mediator. A Mediator is an independent, neutral, third party who will try to assist the parties to find a solution for the child arrangements. In the event that this is not possible and discussions breakdown, parents and grandparents can seek the court's assistance. A court will expect parties to have been to at least one Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) unless there are factors where this would not be appropriate (for example where there has been domestic violence). It would be helpful to seek legal advice.

While a parent with parental responsibility can make an application under the Children Act 1989 for a Child Arrangements Order, grandparents will first need permission from the court before they can make their court application to see their grandchildren. Grandparents do not have an automatic right to see their grandchildren and the court will look at various factors when deciding what Child Arrangements Order to make, including how the children will be affected, what will be in the children's best interest, the parents' wishes and feelings, and the grandparents connection with the grandchildren. Where the court appoints a court welfare officer (Cafcass) to prepare a report, in compiling the report, a child's wishes and feelings may also be taken into account depending on the child's age and level of understanding.

Grandparents can enhance a child's personal development. Children, as they get older, find their genetic origin is important to help them with their self- and cultural identity. To deny them contact with grandparents may have lasting detrimental consequences on both the children and grandparents.

Should a parent prevent their children from being able to say the words 'Grandparents, we love you'? Is it right that a parent can, without a justifiable reason, prevent their children from seeing their grandparents and saying those magical three words?

Website links

Care for the family

Grandparents Plus

Family Mediation Council

For more information on applications by grandparents for child arrangements orders, see the Lexis®PSL Family Practice Note: Grandparents and children proceedings (subscription required).

Leading practical guidance service, Lexis®PSL Family provides procedural and substantive guidance with suites of Practice Notes, Forms and Precedents covering all aspects of family law. Click here to request a free 1-week trial.