The important role a grandparent can play in a child's life is undeniable. Apart from providing a substantial amount of childcare they are often called upon for moral and financial support. Considering this and the fact that most grandparents enjoy spending quality time with their grandchildren it is surprising to find that there are an ever increasing number of grandparents fighting for this right. The figure of over 1 million grandchildren being denied contact with their grandparent(s) is testament to this.
Often the reason for lack of access is divorce, where perhaps one parent is denying contact through no fault of the grandparent. Sometimes a family dispute or a disagreement over the child's upbringing can be the cause.
Whatever the reason for the loss of contact a first step in trying to reach an agreement with the child's parents would be to contact them either by letter, email or telephone. Keeping a dialogue open is important no matter how difficult it may prove. This contact should be an opportunity to see if there is enough flexibility on both sides to come to an agreement. The contact approved by the parents in the first instance may be indirect contact such as letters, emails leading to direct contact such as meeting with the grandparent.
Personal contact between the parties does not always have a positive outcome. Perhaps there are too many issues to be addressed, in this case mediation would be the next step.
Searches through Resolution or The Family Mediators Association websites can be useful in finding a mediator near you. Often the first half hour is offered free, during this time the mediator will assess whether you/your case is suitable for mediation. They will also advise you of the cost involved, fees range from £75 to over £150 per session. Unfortunately grandparents are not entitled to legal aid for mediation it will need to be self funded. For mediation to work both parties must agree to attend.
A mediator's role is to direct and guide the session, they do not have the authority to make decisions for you and anything agreed on in meditation is not legal and binding. Mediators do not express opinions nor do they take sides, their role is to remain impartial. Ideally an agreement can be reached in mediation that everyone is happy with and ultimately is in the best interests of the child(ren).
Failing this the next step in the process of re establishing contact would be to apply to the court for permission to raise a Contact Order. Although a parent or other relevant person is entitled to raise a Contact Order without the courts permission, this right has yet to be extended to people outside the immediate family. Online resources such as www.divorcedepot.co.uk are a cost effective way of proceeding at a charge of £100. Alternatively you can engage a solicitor, their fees range between £200 and £500. There is also a court fee of £200 to take into consideration.
Permission to raise a Contact Order is not in itself a guarantee of a success. Many factors are taken into account by the court when considering your application, most importantly they will consider what is in the child's best interest and how any change may affect their, social, emotional and educational well being. Having said that it is not usual for a court to refuse a grandparent(s) access to their grandchild(ren).
Once the court order has been granted hopefully the happy task of rebuilding a relationship
will be the only consideration. Sadly in cases where the parent(s) refuse to comply with the order court will be needed to be contacted again to have the order enforced. There are certain measures the court can take to ensure the Contact Order is obeyed, parent(s) can be ordered to attend courses, do unpaid work, they can be fined and as a last resort the court can sentence them to time in prison. The stress that can be caused by imprisoning the primary carer of a child is the reason prison is an option rarely chosen by the court.
At a time in life when grandparents should be sitting back relaxing and taking life easy, stress caused by confrontation can have an adverse effect on health. Emotions run high leaving little time for anything else. A strong support network of friends can be a helpful buffer, finding ways to bring emotions in check with relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and deep breathing all help. Eating well, avoiding too much alcohol and non stressful exercise are also key to remaining in control.