Even in the modern, supposedly more enlightened age in which there is much more acknowledgement of issues such as minority rights, I cannot help thinking that the rights and views of grandparents who want to maintain contact with their grandchildren are all too often either not properly addressed or else ignored. Anecdotal reports in the media suggest that the UK government is in the process of addressing these but there is no timescale and given the current political agenda one cannot help but question whether the all-important issues raised below will remain on the backburner for quite some time to come.
As the law stands at present, in the UK, whereas a parent who has concerns about child contact has an almost unfettered right to issue proceedings in the Family Court, a grandparent may not. Essentially, an aggrieved grandparent has to make a preliminary application for permission to start a court case in respect of contact. Particularly in circumstances such as those considered below, for many grandparents this presents a considerable barrier and one suspects precludes many from establishing regular contact that they may once have enjoyed. Legal aid funding is limited and the costs of pursuing a case, even in circumstances where a grandparent acts in person may prove to be prohibitive.
With these thoughts in mind I read a recently published article in the Guardian newspaper entitled “I Fear That I Am about to Lose Touch with My Grandchildren,” (1). This article records the concerns of one particular grandparent but I suspect that the scenario provided is all too commonly encountered.
In this case, it is explained that an ex-daughter-in-law with whom the grandchildren, a boy and a girl, reside decided to move away with them and her new husband. At one point the grandparent’s son, the children’s father, moved house and job to be near the children and it would appear that initially with the benefit of a court order in place he was able to maintain a reasonable level of contact with both children.
However, after an application made by the son to change the court order slightly, a grandson who had been very close to his father refused to stay with him. This appears to have been a catalyst for the ex-daughter-in-law to start ignoring the court order and there are as yet unestablished concerns that the “reluctance” on the part of the boy is the result of his mother being manipulative.
Contact continues between the son and his daughter but there are no overnight stays and the net effect appears to have been that a loving grandparent neither maintains any degree of contact with her grandchildren nor plays any meaningful part in their lives. The article questioned why the son has not taken the matter back to court but one can only speculate and conclude that any possible inaction on his part is to the grandparent’s detriment.
The journalist who wrote this article contacted a family law solicitor and was strongly recommended that the option of mediation be considered. Reluctant parents cannot be compelled to go to mediation by a grandparent. However, mediation does have a number of advantages. It is safe, confidential, timely and above all cost-effective. A commitment to a few possibly weekly 90-minute mediation sessions is a far cry from what would be entailed if there were expensive, protracted court proceedings. In practice, even in so-called “difficult” cases, mediation not only engenders frankness but does tend to bring the best out of people. Costs can be shared and an anxious or hopeful grandparent may at the very least be able to take the opportunity to appeal to a reluctant or intransigent parent’s better nature. In practice, many ex-children in law will be all too aware of the legal position. Accordingly, when advised by their lawyers they may be reluctant to subject themselves to otherwise avoidable judicial scrutiny and possibly criticism.
ASM Plus does not just offer family mediation. We cut through the verbiage typically associated with protracted court proceedings making it easier to engage in focused discussion and meaningful, long lasting resolution. At the very least, an enquiry will cost nothing. If you are a grandparent who considers that contact with grandchildren has been unjustifiably withheld, mediation may be the way forward. ASM Plus phone lines will be open over the Christmas period and if you call our Director, Paul Sandford, he will be happy to refer you to the expert convener of our family team, Austin Chessell.
Contact ASM Plus on (07393) 654824
(1) I fear I am about to lose touch with my grandchildren by Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian, 27 October 2018
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.