Grandparents can be a significant part of family life. As a result of unaffordable childcare costs and both parents having to work, often it is grandparents who become relied upon for childcare duties. Grandparents can also be a great support mechanism for children and parents alike.
Occasionally, a situation may arise whereby grandparents lose or are denied contact with their grandchildren. This could be for a variety of reasons, for example a disagreement with the child’s parent, a relationship breakdown, separation/divorce or relocation. In such situation, what happens to the grandparents?
What rights do grandparents have?
It may come as a surprise to some that grandparents do not have any automatic rights or responsibilities in relation to their grandchildren in Scotland.
In some circumstances, it is possible that the Court will grant orders for contact or residence in favour of grandparents, but getting a Court involved should always be a last resort.
Despite the lack of automatic rights, legislation introduced in 2020 does mean that amongst other things the courts are required to consider ‘the child’s important relationships with other people’, which includes grandparents, when making decisions.
As a grandparent, what are your options?
1. Talk with the parents.
In the first instance, grandparents should try to make arrangements for contact directly with the child’s parents. Whilst this can be a sensitive topic to approach, the mutual interest in wanting what is best for the child can be used to form the basis of discussion.
2. Take legal advice.
Grandparents can seek advice from a family law solicitor who will be able to explain the options available to them, whether that be a form of alternative dispute resolution or a court action.
If the grandparent cannot liaise with the parents of the children directly, a solicitor can contact them and attempt to negotiate on the grandparent’s behalf. It may be that just opening a new line of communication could be beneficial.
3. Alternative dispute resolution: mediation, arbitration or collaboration.
Mediation is an option available to parents and grandparents and provides the opportunity for an agreement to be reached between the parties before an independent mediator. Mediation is a voluntary process, so all parties must be willing to engage. Crucially, it gives the parties the chance to decide the outcome.
Arbitration or collaboration may also be appropriate avenues to explore. Your solicitor will be able to advise which course of action might be most successful in your situation.
4. Court action.
If all other attempts fail or cannot be attempted for whatever reason, grandparents can raise a court action. Depending on the circumstances the action could be for contact or residence. When considering a case for contact or residence the court will focus on the welfare of the child and what is in the child’s best interests. An order will only be made where the court considers it better for the child for an order to be made than no order being made. If the court grants an order, grandparent’s rights in relation to their grandchildren become formalised. This means that parents cannot refuse the contact without potentially serious legal ramifications for themselves.
Taking a matter to court should always be a last resort. Court actions can be expensive and time consuming and the outcome can never be guaranteed. Additionally, raising a court action can have a damaging impact on an already strained relationship.
As a parent, what do I need to consider?
Parents with parental rights and responsibilities over a child can decide who the child has contact with. It may be that they wish to stop contact with a grandparent intentionally, or it may be a matter of circumstance that contact doesn’t happen.
First and foremost, parents should consider what is in the best interests of their child. They should also be mindful of the options available to grandparents in case that has a bearing on their decision making.
If you would like more information about your options as a grandparent, or about another Family Law matter, please contact our Family Team on 03330 430150.