Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being – Margaret Mead, American Anthropologist. There are a growing number who are asking ‘What rights do grandparents have?’
The government has recently been asked to look at how many application for Court Orders have been made by grandparents who wish to see their grandchildren in the last three years.
The statistics show that in the financial year 2013/14 there were 2517 applications. This equates to nearly seven applications per day.
National Family Mediation has used this information to promote alternative ways of resolving disputes, rather than referring matters to court. This can include mediation, which can, depending on financial circumstances, be funded through legal aid, unlike an application to court.
But where do grandparents stand?
The courts do generally recognise that grandparents do have a role to play in their grandchildren’s lives. However, as with any question relating to children, the court has to decide what is in the grandchildren’s best interests.
If a grandparent cannot resolve the dispute directly with the parents, or through mediation, then they can apply to court. However, unlike parents, grandparents have to ask the court for permission to make the application. This is because the grandparents do not have parental responsibility.
In considering the question of whether the grandparents should be allowed to make the application, the court will look at whether they have a genuine interest and commitment to the child.
Assuming that the grandparents can satisfy the court that they have genuine motives in making their application, the court will go on to look at what is in the grandchildren’s best interests.
This involves looking at:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child (in light of his/her age and understanding)
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effects on him/her of any change in his/her circumstances
- His/her age, sex, background and any characteristics of his/hers which the Court considers relevant
- Any harm he/she has suffered or is risk of suffering
- How capable the grandparents are of meeting the child’s needs
Where the mother and the father of the child have separated, the court will need to take into account the fact that the child is already dividing their time between two parents.