Grandparents can very often have problems seeing grandchildren following the divorce of their son or daughter. Perhaps one of the most heart-breaking problems is the potential impact on the grandparents having continued access with the grandchildren. Grandparents very often feel trapped in the middle of the conflict and communications can become very difficult, especially when arranging days out or sleep overs.
Direct Mediation Services are specialist in working with families post separation. Most people think our services are only for parents, but we have over 1500 grandparents visit our website each month, which shows that the problem of grandparent contact is not uncommon.
Unlike birth parents, grandparents do not have parental responsibility. This means that they do not have automatic rights in law to have contact with their grandchildren. Where grandparents wish to get a legal order to have contact with their children, they must apply to the court for permission to make an application for a child arrangements order. However, before applying to court, grandparents, like parents, should attempt mediation.
What rights do I have as a grandparent?
Generally, grandparents do not have automatic rights to have contact with their grandchildren. This is because they do not have Parental Responsibility (PR). Parental responsibility ultimately decides who has responsibility over a child and can have a say regarding decision-making on such matters as education and health. In family law, applicants to the court, in respect of children applications, must have parental responsibility, otherwise they will need to apply for permission to the court.
Grandparents wishing to mediate do not need parental responsibility to come to family mediation. However, if they ultimately end up making a court application, they will need to apply for permission for their application to be heard. Mediation is a useful place for grandparents to start to see if contact with the grandchildren can be re-established. Additionally, it is a legal requirement to attend mediation before making a court application regardless. We have extended blogposts on these topics on our website
How can mediation help?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. It supports parties in a dispute to reach an agreement that works for all involved. An accredited mediator acts as an impartial, unbiased facilitator, who keeps the conversation productive, assists you in focusing on a specific agenda, and provides you with specific information regarding the law. They do not provide legal advice or tell you what to do.
Mediation is the preferable way to settle family disputes. In fact, since 2014 it has been a legal requirement to at least attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying to the court in child arrangements cases. The only time you don’t have to attend mediation is if you are exempt for a specific reason, such as domestic abuse or child protection issues. An exhaustive list of exemptions can be found on the Family Mediation Council website. One of the main benefits of using family mediation is that it keeps the decision-making in the hands of the parties, rather than the hands of a judge or magistrates, and can be very useful in making arrangements that work for all parties.
For grandparents, mediation can be a supportive environment for you to explain to the other party (perhaps your grandchildren’s mother or father) that you would like to have continued contact with your grandchildren. Many grandparents will have had a longstanding relationship with their grandchildren before the separation of their children, and do not want to lose this due to their relationship breakdown. This is a common situation that we deal with.
What sort of agreements can be reached in mediation?
If you reach an agreement in mediation, then the hope is that this will settle the dispute and the agreement will be followed by the parties involved. It is important to know, however, that the agreement is not legally binding from the outset. You can get an agreement made at mediation legally binding by asking your solicitor to draft the agreement as a consent order, which can then be made legally binding by the court. This is still far better than using the courts from the outset as it is far quicker, cheaper and keeps the agreement one that the parties have made themselves.
See the following case studies involving grandparents that illustrate the sort of agreements that are successfully reached in mediation:
Case Study 1
Peter came to mediation to discuss contact with his grandchildren Sam (12) and Natalie (8). Peter’s son, Harry, and his partner, Sian, had recently separated. They are the biological parents of Sam and Natalie and are both named on their birth certificates.
Following Harry and Sian’s separation, the relationship was difficult. Harry had left the family home following an intense argument and had not returned; Sian had said that the relationship was over, and that Harry would have no contact with her or the children again. Harry was now living with his father, Peter, until he found a place of his own. Harry was attempting mediation with Sian separately to try and get contact with Sam and Natalie – remember that as their biological father named on their birth certificates, Harry has parental responsibility and thus has rights.
Peter, on the other hand, who was devastated at the prospect of no longer having contact with Sam and Natalie, did not have parental responsibility. As Harry’s father, Sian had also indirectly denied Peter contact. Throughout Harry and Sian’s relationship, Peter had a strong relationship with his grandchildren. They would often stay overnight, and Peter would take on a lot of caring responsibilities whilst Harry and Sian worked.
Peter decided that he also would like to use mediation to try and reach some form of agreement with Sian. He did this separately to Harry. There was no animosity between Peter and Sian, however with him being Harry’s father, there was obviously some level of complexity. Fortunately, Sian accepted the invitation to mediate and was able to then hear Peter’s side and concerns. The mediator explained to both parties during their joint session that the focus of the dispute was Sam and Natalie and that all decisions should focus on the children’s best interests.
With the support of mediation, it was agreed that Peter could have fortnightly contact with Sam and Natalie on Saturdays so that he could take them out for the day. Sian was not willing to allow overnight contact to be reinstated at this point, as Harry was still living with Peter. This was an “interim agreement”, which was used until Sian and Harry could settle their differences separately. The agreement was in place with the view that Peter could maintain a relationship with the children whilst other areas of dispute were settled.
Case Study 1 shows how mediation can be useful for grandparents, who are not directly involved in the conflict. Peter was able to mediate with Sian to explain to her how upset he was at the situation, and Sian was able to see how continued contact with Peter was in her children’s best interests, given the strong bond they had with Peter.
Case Study 2
Joan came to mediation to discuss contact arrangements with her granddaughter, Rachel (8 years old). Rachel lived with Molly, ex-daughter-in-law. Molly had divorced her husband, Matthew, Joan’s son, 4 years ago due to domestic abuse. Since then, Matthew had moved away and there had been no contact. Joan had been attempting to have contact with Rachel since the relationship broke down. She had always had a strong relationship with Rachel throughout her life and had supported Molly in providing care.
Due to the history of domestic abuse, Molly was hesitant in reinstating contact between Rachel and Joan. For the last four years there had been no direct or indirect contact. This had been very difficult for Joan, but she was unsure on what she could have done.
Joan came to mediation, as she was directed to us after reading a blog on grandparent’s rights. Joan’s mediator invited Molly to attend mediation and she accepted. During the sessions, Joan expressed how she wished to have a relationship with Rachel again and how she had missed her greatly in the last four years. Molly was appreciative of this but was concerned about how this could work and how she could ensure that Rachel was safe. She did not want Rachel to have contact with her father.
During the sessions, the meditator supported the parties to consider various options, one of which was using a contact centre. Contact centres are a neutral and safe environment where family members can meet with children in a secure place for a specified amount of time. An agreement was made whereby Joan would firstly write to Rachel and reintroduce herself and then, if this went well, could have weekly contact with Rachel at a local contact centre.
Using a contact centre allowed for an agreement to be made that worked for both parties – Joan was able to see Rachel and Molly was able to allow this knowing that Rachel was in safe hands.
Case Study 2 shows how mediation can provide parties with new ideas and information that can support agreements being reached that are in everybody’s best interests, particularly the child. In this case, the use of a contact centre allowed for an agreement that appreciated the wishes and feelings of the parties involved.
What are child contact centres?
Child contact centres are neutral and safe places for children to have contact with their family members where meeting at the home or in public is not suitable, for whatever reason. There are two usual types of contact provided at the centres:
Supervised contact – this is used where child(ren) involved have suffered or are deemed to be at risk of suffering, significant harm. This form of contact is heavily monitored by professionals, so that the safety of the child can be ensured, but also evaluated to promote a relationship.
Supported contact – Supported contact is less invasive, but that is because there are no concerns to the safety or welfare of the child(ren). The environment is often community based and provides a fun atmosphere for children to meet with family members. This is the kind of contact Joan would have with Rachel in Case Study 2.
How can The Starting Point Centre help?
This blogpost has hopefully given you an indication of the benefits of mediation and how child contact centres can help in reaching positive agreements in child disputes. The Starting Point Centre is a child contact centre that offers a variety of services. It could very be a place to facilitate contact with your grandchildren.
For further information, please contact
For mediation, Direct Mediation Services:
T: 0113 468 9593
For The Starting Point Centre:
T: 0113 268 9443