A grandparent can apply to the Court for contact but first they need to obtain permission from the Court itself before being allowed to make the substantive application. This is normally the case unless they meet one of a set of criteria – see below.
A Contact Order is now called a Child Arrangements Order.
As a prelude to a Court application a grandparent will have to try family mediation. Family mediators are entirely neutral and independent. Attendance at what is called a mediation, information and assessment meeting is necessary unless an exemption applies. If the other party who has parental responsibility (normally the parents) refuse to mediate then the mediator will give the grandparents a MIAM form which enables a Court application to be made. This form lasts for four months so an application to Court must be made within four months.
The factors which the Court will consider on an application for permission will include the following:
a. The nature of the proposed application.
b. The applicant’s connection with the child.
c. Any risks there might be of the application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that they would be harmed by it.
It is extremely important to note that when the Court considers whether to give permission or not the child’s welfare is not the paramount consideration. This is considered as part of the main, substantive application if permission is granted.
The person who is the other party (normally the parent) may oppose the leave/permission application. Often permission applications are mere formalities and permission is often granted although not always. Please note that even though you are granted permission to bring an application this does not automatically mean that you will get a Contact Order.
If permission is granted then when looking at the main application consideration will be given to what is called the welfare checklist which includes the following:
a. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in light of their age and understanding).
b. Their physical, emotional and educational needs.
c. The likely effect on them of any change in their circumstances.
d. Their age, sex, background and any characteristic of theirs that the Court considers relevant.
e. Any harm that they have suffered or are at risk of suffering.
f. How capable each of their parents, and any other person in relation to whom the Court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs.
g. The range of powers available to the Court in the proceedings in question.
Contact can be direct but can also include indirect contact such as telephone, letters and email contact.
As already stated there is no automatic presumption that a grandparent is entitled to contact. A grandparent must show the grounds for contact being given. In reality if for example the relationship between mother and grandmother has broken down and is actually hostile then it may in reality be difficult for a grandparent to secure substantial direct contact. This is because the Court will take into account the risk of the child suffering emotional abuse by being caught in the middle of an adult conflict.
This article has dealt with contact but a Child Arrangements Order can also deal with where a child lives.
The sorts of situations in which a grandparent does not have to obtain permission can include if a child has lived with a grandparent for three years, if everyone with parental responsibility consents, if the grandparent has parental responsibility him or herself, if the child is in the care of the local authority and the local authority consents and if there is already some sort of Child Arrangements Order in place.
Grandparents can and do play an important role in a child’s life. It is important for grandparents to realise that they can apply to the Court for contact if every other avenue to resolve this sort of dispute has been explored.
For further information, please call 0800 088 6004