In recent years, there has been some publicity about prospective changes to the law to protect the rights of grandparents (and other extended family) to have contact with children. This originates from a recent debate in Parliament in which MPs shared experiences of their constituents, including of grandparents accused of harassment and visited by the police after sending birthday cards and Christmas gifts to their grandchildren.
The issue of access rights for grandparents was last examined as part of the Independent Family Justice Review in 2011.
The Best Interests of the Child
However, the law is in place already to protect the relationships that children can have with extended paternal family. There is no ‘presumption of grandparent contact’. Under the Children Act contact is a right of children, not a right of the person with whom they are having contact. If it is the best interests of the child to have a relationship with that person, then the Court should support it. This is the same whether that person is a parent, a sibling, a grandparent or anyone else. The paramount consideration is the welfare of the child.
Systems to Help Families
Currently, a non-parent has to ask the court’s permission to be able to apply for a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) that enables them to have contact. This is an initial vetting process to avoid hopeless or vexatious applications. If the desire for contact is well-meaning and passes an initial view that it is worth considering, then permission is very often given. Thereafter an assessment of the best interests of the child is made by the Court, often with the assistance of a report prepared by CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).
The Ministry of Justice has said they will consider any proposals for helping children maintain involvement with grandparents, together with any potential reforms to the Family Justice System. However, grandparents and other extended family do not need to wait for any reforms, they have the ability now to seek to protect those relationships through the Court and shouldn’t hesitate in doing so.
If you are encountering difficulties or obstruction in maintaining a relationship with a child, then our Legal 500 ‘Top Tier’ Family Department in our offices situated across the East Midlands are happy to assist. Call Peter Dadswell on 01332 225354.