Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that almost 2000 applications were made in 2016 by grandparents seeking contact with their grandchildren. That’s an increase of 1,617 on 2014 and the trend is set to continue.
Why the sudden increase? It is certainly becoming far more common now for both parents to return to work after having children and the ever increasing cost of childcare means that grandparents are often left holding the baby – quite literally! Close family relationships between children and their grandparents are now far more common and better health and life expectancy means that grandparents are far more likely to be around to spend quality time with their grandchildren and to see them grow up.
It is also no doubt the case that grandparents are now far more Court savvy and aware of their rights and options than they would have been 5 or 10 years ago; making them less reluctant or opposed to litigation if contact is not forthcoming.
Although the number of applications made by grandparents are increasing, we have no way of knowing how many have actually been successful. Unlike parents, grandparents must first seek permission of the Court before they can apply for contact. When determining whether to grant permission the court will consider:
- the nature of the proposed application.
- the grandparent’s connection with the child.
- any risk that the application may disrupt the child’s life to such an extent that it would cause the child harm.
The Court will also consider the merits of the application to be made and weed out any hopeless cases.
Even if permission is granted, there is no automatic presumption that contact with a grandparent is in the child’s best interests. The grandparent must demonstrate that in the particular circumstances of their case contact is in the child’s best interests. That being said, the Court does acknowledge that in most cases children value contact with their grandparents.
What is important is that grandparents remain impartial and are not seen to be taking sides with one or other of the child’s parents. It is also unlikely that contact will be considered in the child’s best interests if there is a significant degree of hostility between the grandparent and the child’s parents.
Every case is different, so it is almost impossible to say whether an application is likely to be successful or not. It’s also inevitable that there will be an element of hostility in every case where an application is being contemplated – if not, the contact would be agreed.
Whether or not contact is going to be considered to be in the best interests of the child is therefore likely to be largely dependent on how close the relationship between the child and grandparent has been. A grandparent that has helped with the day-to-day care of a child for several months or years will have a far stronger case than a grandparent who only sees the child once or twice a year.
Grandparents that genuinely believe they have been shut out of their grandchildren’s lives following the divorce or separation of the parents should not be afraid of making an application for contact if they believe it will be upsetting or traumatising for the child or children not to see them.
If you require advice regarding contact arrangements for a child, please contact Naheed Taj on firstname.lastname@example.org
This paper is intended to be a brief note for clients and other interested parties. The information is believed to be correct at the date of publication but should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice. Please speak to a member of our team.