Statistics suggest that nearly 2 million grandparents have either given up a job, reduced their hours or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren.

With the cost of childcare up by 27% over the last five years it is no surprise that there is an increasing reliance upon grandparents to step in. The poll Time to care: generation generosity under pressure found that nearly 40% of grandparents who look after grandchildren said they do so to allow a parent to return to work.

This can have it downside for the grandparent and can put undue pressure on precious financial resources but those looking after children under the age of 12 years could apply for National Insurance credits to boost their income in retirement. The positives are obvious. The grandparents naturally play a vital role in the child(ren)’s upbringing and this leads to a closer bond between the grandparents and their grandchildren. What happens then when the children parent’s separate and relationships unsurprisingly become strained? For those who find themselves increasingly excluded from the child(ren)’s new routines what can be done to ensure their close bond with the child(ren) is not affected?

It is a sad reality, and often a great surprise to many, that Grandparents do not have ‘legal rights’ in respect of their grandchildren. That does not mean to say that Grandparents cannot acquire rights to spend time with their grandchildren or even to become full time carers where the child(ren)’s parents are, for whatever reason, incapable.

Often, a simple letter, email or even quick call to the parent who appears to have reduced the time spent between grandparent and child(ren) could open lines of communication. It has to be remembered that the parents will be coming to terms with their separation and the fear that comes with that, and quite simply it may be that the important role of the grandparents has been overlooked.

Mediation can be a huge help for families battling these issues and can assist negotiations which ultimately lead to an agreement being reached but what if mediation is not an option or mediation breaks down?

The court has a fairly wide range of powers when it comes to deciding how children should spend their time and with whom. Arrangements are however only ordered if they are considered to be in the child(ren)’s best interests. Assuming there are no risks posed to the child in seeing the grandparent it is arguable that to maintain a relationship with a grandparent is undoubtedly in a child(ren)’s best interests.

Grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to have their application to spend time with a child heard by the court and do need to seek the court’s permission to make the application in the first instance, save for in certain limited circumstances usually where the child is already living with them. When deciding whether or not to grant permission the court considers:

1. The nature of the proposed application;
2. The applicant’s connection to the child;
3. Any risk there might be of the proposed application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that the child would be harmed by it;
4. Where the child is cared for by the local authority:
i. The authority’s plan’s for the child’s future; and
ii. The wishes and feelings of the child’s parents

In most cases permission of the Court is granted and the Court will then proceed with the substantive application regarding the time the child spends with his/her grandparents.

The court process can be a fairly tricky one to navigate and so it is advisable to seek some guidance from a trained solicitor beforehand.

Legal Aid is still available for these court applications but only in limited circumstances, namely the grandparent can prove themselves to be or that they are at risk of being a victim of domestic abuse from the parent in the case and that their financial circumstances meet the criteria set out by the Legal Aid Agency. Solicitors who are part of the Legal Aid franchise will be able to provide you with a free assessment of eligibility.

If you would like further advice on how to protect your important role as a grandparent please feel free to contact Jennifer McNeil who is an accredited Resolution family law specialist on 0116 201 8566.

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