CAFCASS and Grandparent’s Rights
A separation or a martial breakdown is a very challenging time for the whole family, but this is especially so for children involved. Children can experience a feeling of limbo where their own world is going through big and difficult changes that they can struggle to understand. As grandparents, particularly if you and your grandchildren have a close relationship, it can be difficult to be involved in this process and work to maintain that relationship.
A good way to keep a good relationship is to reach out to the parents in the first instance, one of which of course will be your own child. You should ask for permission to make contact and seek guidance from them as to how to go about this. It may be, however, that there are conflicts between yourself and the parents. It can be a good idea to try and deal with these conflicts and resolve any hard feelings before focusing on the children.
However, it is unfortunate that sometimes grandparents can be forgotten in working out post-separation arrangements, or that family conflicts are such that grandparents end up cut off from their grandchildren. It is a common question that comes to us at Direct Mediation Services: Do I, as a grandparent, have rights to see my grandchild?
Grandparents Rights: Do they exist?
It is a common misconception that grandparents have a legal right to see their grandchildren. It is not the case, but don’t give up reading at this point!
As grandparents, this can come as a shock and be quite upsetting. The most important thing you can do as a grandparent is try to maintain a good relationship and contact with your grandchildren during their parents’ separation. As above, trying to rebuild the relationship with your grandchildren’s parents and be supportive of them with their separation is conducive in achieving this.
There are times, however, where this doesn’t work. Sometimes, as grandparents, you can be denied any contact at all with the children and despite best efforts to resolve this yourselves, it is unsuccessful. In these circumstances, whilst there is not a legal right to spend time with your grandchildren, you can make an application to the family courts.
Your first step is to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with one of our trained and accredited family mediators, who can provide you information and assess your case’s suitability for mediation. Please read here to see how mediation can help you.
In some cases, mediation is unsuitable, or the other party declines to attend. In these circumstances, you will need to make an application to the Court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order.
Court should always be your last resort. It is a costly and time-consuming process – the application itself costs £215. If you are considering making an application to Court, you should check if you qualify for Help with Fees.
Before the Court even considers making a Child Arrangements Order, they will firstly consider if they can grant permission for you to make an application. Generally, permission is required by anyone applying for an order relating to a child who does not have parental responsibility. When making this decision, the Court will always take into account the child’s best interests first. They will consider your relationship with your grandchild and whether making such an order would be in your grandchild’s best interests. In considering best interests, the Court may consider the age of your grandchildren and also their wishes and feelings.
The Court Process
If you are successful in gaining permission to go to Court, you will go to a hearing where a Judge will consider the case. This is called a directions hearing – if you have a solicitor, they will be able to represent you and will give you legal advice on how to proceed.
The Judge will likely adjourn after the directions hearing to consider the case before making a decision or an order. You will then attend a further hearing.
As part of the Child Arrangements Order process, your application will also be considered by the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, known as CAFCASS. CAFCASS will look into your grandchildren’s circumstances and also the adults involved in providing care or having a relationship with them. They will also perform checks with the police and social services. Sometimes CAFCASS will create a report (known as a Section 7 report) based on their inquiries and provide this to the Court. It is likely that the Judge will take these findings into account when making a decision.
The order made by a Judge will set out the arrangements for your grandchildren and will specify any legal right which you will have to spend time or contact your grandchildren. It is important to note, however, that the order can be disputed by another party (namely a parent of your grandchildren). If this takes place, there may be another hearing and you will need to evidence why the order is correct. A solicitor can support you with this.
Can I get help?
There is help available to you if you are looking to spend time with your grandchildren. As mentioned above, Direct Mediation Services can support you with this in relation to mediation and – in any event – you will need to attend a MIAM before taking any other action. Our friendly team can provide you with further information and signposting in relation to your case.
If mediation does not go ahead, you can then make an application to Court. For support there are a few options:
- You can contact a local solicitor who can represent you and advise you in relation to your case.
- You can contact the Family Court Application Service who can offer procedural support with making a Court application. Please note they do not offer legal advice. You can read their guest blog here.
- You can contact Support Through Court, a charity where volunteers can help you navigate the Court process and make applications to Court free of charge. Please note they do not offer legal advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have rights as a grandparent?
The short answer is no. However, there is legal action you can take. You can apply for a Child Arrangements Order so that your grandchildren can spend time with you, but you will need to ask the Court for permission.
How much does it cost to make a Court application?
The application fee for a Child Arrangements Order is £215. This is just the application fee, and does not include the costs of legal advice or representation.
Can I represent myself at Court?
Yes. This is known as being a litigant in person. You should seek some legal advice, however. Some law firms offer free 30 minute consultations. You can also get free procedural support at Support Through Court.
Can mediation help?
Absolutely. Mediation can be very useful in trying to resolve issues without going through the Courts. You can invite the parent of your grandchildren to mediation to try and come to an arrangement so that you can have contact again. Remember, you will need to attend a MIAM regardless if you are looking to make an application to Court.
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