Separated parents usually act as a gateway to children having contact with extended family members. So, children of separated parents usually see their mothers parents and extended family during the time they have with their mother, and likewise the fathers family when with the father.
Sometimes, however, issues arise that can mean grandparents and other family members are excluded from childrens lives. This can risk a loss of that important relationship altogether.
For the remainder of this section, we refer to grandparents. However, the issues mentioned apply just as equally to other extended family members.
In this country, grandparents do not have an absolute right to see and spend time with their grandchildren. However, courts recognise that grandparents often have an important and positive role to play in childrens lives and development. Time spent with grandparents will therefore generally be encouraged.
If contact between a grandparent and grandchildren cannot be agreed, a grandparent can make an application for a contact order. Most grandparents will first have to apply for permission to make that application. This is because most will not be within the classes of people who are automatically permitted to apply for a section 8 order.
When deciding whether to grant permission, the court will take into account (amongst other factors):
The court will also bear in mind the prospect of the section 8 application succeeding in the long-run, if permission is granted.
If a grandparent is given permission to apply for a section 8 order, the court will consider and decide that application based on what is in the particular childs best interests. The court will take into account the matters set out in the welfare checklist.
If a grandparent is to have care of a grandchild for any length of time, it might be advisable for the arrangement to be recognised formally. This might be through a residence order or a special guardianship order. Such orders would also give the grandparent PR.
Applications for a residence order do not always have to be contested. In some situations, a residence order could be made in favour of a grandparent by consent if the childs parents agreed.
In grandparent cases, it is important to evaluate whether a court order is needed (or is advisable), and if so which order is most suited, and how best to secure it.
There are various support services specialising in helping grandparents and other extended family members caring for children, which can offer advice and practical support.