Divorce is hard for everyone, but it can be especially difficult for grandparents who can find themselves very much on the outside when their adult children get divorced, or their relationship breaks down. When this happens, many grandparents are left not knowing what to do and are not aware of their options. Here, we take a look at grandparents rights, and try to answer your questions.
What rights do grandparents have to see their grandchildren?
Unfortunately, there is no automatic right for grandparents to have contact with their grandchildren. Although they do have the right to ask the court for permission to make an application under the Children Act 1989. When you apply, you should explain the role you have played in your grandchildren’s lives until you stopped seeing them.
After making the initial application, the court will set a date for the hearing and invite all those with parental responsibility to attend. The court will consider things such as your connection to the children and their relationship to you. If you have never been in contact with your grandchildren or have seen them infrequently, the court will be less inclined to make an immediate order, and instead may put in place an interim arrangement to integrate you into their lives. Whatever is decided, the overriding principle is the child’s welfare.
What can I do to maintain contact?
If you have tried to maintain face to face contact but not been successful, try talking to their parents about indirect contact instead. This could be email, texts, videos, or photographs. Of course, the type of indirect contact very much depends on the ages of the children. Young children are not likely to be particularly enamoured with a text heavy email, just as older children are unlikely to find footage of their grandparents gurning at a camera much fun.
Any letters you send should be neutral and child focussed, and not refer to the separation or ensuing conflict. Ask them about school, friends, hobbies, include photographs or send small gifts. If you send any letters, it is always best to make copies.
Tips for continuing the relationship with grandchildren after divorce or separation
Although grandparents want to be there to support their family, it is also important they navigate their own way during the divorce process. This could include:
- Keep things as normal as possible. Reassuring them will help them understand you are there when they need you.
- Stay neutral – it is only natural to feel a stronger alliance with your own adult child during a divorce or separation. But even if you have negative feelings towards the other parent, it is best to stay neutral when around the grandchildren. Avoid pressuring them to give you information, as this can only add to their confusion.
- Be flexible and understanding – following a divorce or separation, family celebrations such as birthdays or certain holidays will be different to what they were. While you may have always spent birthdays with your grandchildren, the separation may change these arrangements in the future. Accepting the change is difficult, but focussing on building new traditions and making the times spent together extra special can lead to a smoother adjustment for everyone.
- Respect the agreement of both parents – when it comes to children, grandparents should always respect the wishes of both parents, for example, if they have to finish their homework before a certain time. Grandparents should not state or imply that the rules set by one parent are more or less important than those of the other parent. It is important that the ground rules are respected and maintained.
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