Grandparents are a huge asset to any family. Not only do they have a lot of love to give to their grandchildren, but these days they’re often called on as carers while the parents are at work. They play a vital role in the family.
More than that, when they’re carers (and even when they’re not) they develop very close bonds with their grandchildren, who sometimes spend more time with them than with their own parents. Estimates are that around 60% of all childcare in the UK is provided by grandparents, a truly staggering figure.
But when a couple divorce, what rights do the paternal grandparents have to see their grandchildren?
The sad but true fact is that only people with parental rights – which usually just means the mother and father named on the child’s birth certificate – have automatic access to the child. However, that doesn’t indicate that all legal doors are closed to grandparents. Where children are over the age of 10, their views are also taken into account when deciding access, although this is tempered with statements from the parents.
For those children below that age, the court tries to assess what’s in the best interests of the child when it comes to access. So it’s possible that paternal grandparents could have access (all this assumes the children reside with their mother). Realistically, though, it’s rare for paternal grandparents to be given access.
In Scotland there have been more moves towards grandparent access, a recognition of the role grandparents take in the raising of a child.
What Can You Do?
In truth, grandparents don’t have a legal leg to stand on. If your former daughter-in-law wants to deny you access to your own grandchildren, she can, and perfectly legally. You can try approaching her directly and negotiating access, or through mediation, but there’s no guarantee it would work.
There is also the alternative of taking the matter to court. Be warned, though, that it can be expensive, and in the vast majority of cases, you’ll find it to be unsuccessful. Additionally, there are a number of obstacles to be overcome first.
Quite ridiculously, the grandparents first have to apply to court for permission to even apply for a contact order. If it sounds convoluted, that’s because it is. But even if permission is granted, and the matter does go to court, the grandparents still have to prove that prior to the split they had an important, meaningful relationship with their grandchildren, and that it’s in the interests of the children that it continues. In other words, the onus is on the grandparents to prove their case, since there’s no presumed contact between grandparents and grandchildren. Additionally, parents can object, raising yet another hurdle.
Even in the few cases that grandparents win, that’s still no guarantee of success. The mother can simply ignore the order for access from the court, leaving the grandparents with another lengthy and expensive legal action to have it enforced.
It’s heartbreaking, not just for the grandparents, but also the children, who may well have depended on them for so long and built their lives about them. Even in the best break up, everyone suffers. When there’s rancour and bitterness involved, that’s doubled, and the ones who suffer most are the most powerless legally.