Grandparents – to many children they are the most important people in their lives. Known from birth, the bond between grandchild and grandparent is unique and precious, as protector, best friend, family storyteller and confidante.
I was recently asked to give some radio interviews – including BBC Hereford and Worcester – on the legal status of grandparents, something I am asked to advise about frequently. The feedback after these interviews has been one of surprise that in law, grandparents do not have an automatic right to see their grandchildren. It can be very sad when a grandparent suddenly loses contact with a grandchild due to a falling out of which they may have had no involvement.
In most situations children – and society – deserve to have this special relationship preserved: it helps to inform the child’s identity, heritage and roots.
Child Arrangement Order (CAO)
Ministry of Justice statistics that over 2000 grandparents have applied to court for a CAO.
Grandparents have an extra hurdle before a court will consider an application for them to spend time with a grandchild. They will usually require leave or permission to be allowed to apply to the court. Although this is usually granted, the court are required during this permission process to seek the views of the parents and, depending on their age, the child as well. Each case is looked at individually, a process involving potential delays, stress and often costs.
Governments have reviewed this two-stage process but have decided to retain it for the time being.
Communication is key
My advice when acting for grandparents is to try to ensure that communication is maintained with all parties and to remember to focus on what is going to be in the best interests of the child.
Before the courts, judges frequently recognise the very real and protective nature of the grandparent relationship. In some cases, grandparents will become involved in proceedings where children are at risk of being taken into care and children can be placed with grandparents rather than in foster care.