Seeing your grandchildren isn't always child's play when you're a grandparent

Grandparents and grandchildren.jpg

By Richard Higham

The birth of Louis, the youngest prince of England has prompted ten days of royalist celebration of the most British variety.

Whilst the media at home and abroad waits on every baby-related announcement, the latest addition to the Windsor line has spent his first week surrounded by doting family that has included his paternal great-grandparents – their Royal Highnesses the Queen and Prince Philip – and grandfather, the Prince of Wales.

Over the last twenty years, the Royal Family has presented itself as the personification of a tight-knit and loving family unit and it borders fantasy to think that much should change in the future.

Whilst the Royals are unique and extraordinary in the sense they live their lives permanently in the public eye, it’s probably not unreasonable to say that our traditional image of a family wouldn’t be completely dissimilar to the public image they present: loving, mutually supportive and good-humoured.

In such families, grandparents get to enjoy their grandchildren through almost unlimited access – and it’s inconceivable, perhaps, to think that the new prince won’t grow up having a very close bond to his grandparents and great-grandparents.

But that’s not the case for every family. A great many grandparents live life without any sort of contact with their grandchildren, usually due either to conflict within the family or geographical distance.

When access to a grandchild is denied by its parents, life for grandparents can become challenging and emotionally distressing.

Yet as the law currently stands, grandparents don’t have an automatic right to contact with their grandchildren. Having said that, family courts do recognise the invaluable role grandparents can play in the care and emotional wellbeing of children and the law does provide a process that allows them to seek guaranteed access if the conflict can’t be resolved amicably.

Naturally, taking legal action against your family is not without its own stresses and pressures and so it’s wise to explore all the possible alternatives before making the decision to resort to law.

Resolution is always the best and least expensive way to achieve the right outcome if possible and a good solicitor will always look to use negotiation or mediation as a first step.

If going to court becomes the only option to get the required outcome, it’s rare for access to be refused unless there is evidence of abuse or violence.

But it’s also worth bearing in mind that whilst the courts are sympathetic to the role grandparents can and often do play in the lives of grandchildren, in a hearing they are only concerned with making an order that is in the best interests of the child or children involved.

That means weighing up all the child’s circumstances and considering whether continuing contact might have a negative impact on the rest of the family relationships.

In the end, though, grandparents do have options if they find themselves in the distressing situation of having enforced isolation from their grandchildren and they should talk to their solicitor about the best way of securing the outcome they want.

Mark Norman