My colleague Eildh Conacher recently provided an overview of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, but what does it mean in practice?
The benefits for children of having good relationships with their grandparents have been widely documented and, for many families, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the important roles grandparents play in their grandchildren’s lives: teacher; babysitter; friend; historian; taxi driver. But what happens when the relationship between a grandparent and their grandchild’s parent, or parents, breaks down?
The passing of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 in October of this year was intended to take a holistic view of the family unit and take the whole family into consideration in court decisions made about a child’s future. This intention sought to recognise the important roles played by siblings, grandparents and other family members in the lives of children.
A consultation was held by the Scottish Government on the potential of including a presumption in favour of contact between children and their grandparents. Responses to the consultation by grandparents varied. Some felt that they should have automatic rights in relation to contact with their grandchildren while others were of the opinion that this was not necessary and the law did not require to be changed.
Ultimately, the decision was taken not to include specific reference to grandparents in the new legislation. Instead, the courts are now required to consider, “the child’s important relationships with other people”. This means that when making decisions about a child’s care and well being, the courts will take into consideration relationships other than just the parent/child relationship. This will be a welcome change for many family members, not just grandparents.
But, what are the practical steps you can take if you are being stopped from having meaningful contact with your grandchild?
Firstly, you should make contact with a family solicitor who will be able to talk you through your options and recommend the most appropriate course of action for your personal situation. Depending on the circumstances there are several courses of action that could be pursued; not all of these involve going to court and you should keep in mind that any course of action pursued should be in the best interest of the child.
Your solicitor may make a number of recommendations including: contacting your grandchild’s parents directly yourself if you haven’t already done so; having your solicitor contact your grandchild’s parents; using methods of dispute resolution such as collaboration, mediation or arbitration to come to an arrangement which is suitable for all parties. As a last resort your solicitor may suggest raising a court action for contact.
Each family will have a unique set of circumstances and so for more information or assistance please contact a member of our Family Law team.