I will admit that when I was asked by someone the other day "is it true that grandparents have legal rights now” I wondered if I had somehow managed to sleep through a major change in family law.
On further checking, and after receiving another two queries from clients about the same issue, I discovered that some of our media were, unsurprisingly, mis-reporting the position.
The Family Justice Review has conducted a consultation paper on the position of grandparents when the parents of their grandchild separate. There was no change in law or planned change to the law.
The current position is that grandparents do not have the right to see their child. Indeed, technically parents do not either as the right to have contact is in fact that of the child. The overriding objective under the Children Act 1989 is to act in the best interests of the child.
Therefore, there will be many grandparents reading this who would say maintaining a relationship with their grandchild is in the child's best interests and many Judges who would agree also. Presently, a grandparent can apply to the court for a Contact Order, in the same way as a parent does but he has one further hurdle to overcome - the court has to give them permission to make the application first.
There are some situations where grandparents end up caring full time for the child, or one parent is not able to have contact for whatever reason so a grandparent may have contact to maintain the child's identity to that side of the family. Every case is always based on it's merits as viewed from the child's perspective.
The Family Justice Review has not changed the law just simply bolstered the view that grandparents should play a greater role in contact with the children. Their proposal is for parenting agreements to allow people to determine the arranges for the care of a child themselves and to involve grandparents. Parenting Plans have been in place for some time, and I have to say I don't think they work.
In my experience, mediation can be a very effective tool to resolve this issue. Alternatively, I think a lot of courts would often give grandparents permission to apply for contact, especially if they have previously had a fulfilling rule in the child's life. Farleys act for lots of grandparents in many types of cases and so whilst they have no legal right per se, they have an ability to make their voice heard and there is often a legal pathway to pursue to obtain contact with grandchildren.