Family law solicitor Janet Tresman was welcomed by the North London Grandparents group of the University of the Third Age (U3A) on 2 December to address them on the ins and outs of the law concerning grandparents and their right to contact with their grandchildren.
In her presentation Janet immediately dispelled any myths that may have been harboured that grandparents have certain rights. They are not the only ones, as parents have no inherent rights either. The advent of the Children Act 1989 removed the concept of any person, parent or grandparent having rights over their offspring. It is the child who has rights governed by the principle that their welfare is of paramount importance on all matters relating to them.
Grandparents can apply to the courts for permission to make an application for contact with their grandchildren within the Order-Children Arrangements Programme. Such applications are rarely refused. Just as the Children’s and Families Act 2014 requires fathers to have active input into their children’s lives, the courts also recognise that children’s lives are greatly enriched by regular contact with their grandparents.
Janet went on to tell the group that these may be difficult applications because their consequences may polarise family relationships even further. Usually on separation or divorce of the parents, the grandparents have contact when their son or daughter does. Frequently in the early stages of separation, the grandparents’ role in their grandchildren’s lives is pivotal. This is because frequently the mother or father may have returned to their parents’ home and taken the children with them as a suitable venue for contact to take place including overnight stays.
If however, the parents have not separated but are apparently united in their opposition to their children having contact with their grandparents, restoring that relationship could be an uphill struggle. Janet, who has conducted over 100 mediations, recommended mediation or family counselling as a first step if all concerned are willing to attend.
If that does not work, all is not lost before litigation ensues and statements are written and filed and set in stone. Janet was able to tell the group of the recent local news that in 31 per cent of first appointments via the Family Court at Barnet, agreements had been reached between all the parties.
This compares to 13 per cent success rate in all other courts. The court service puts Barnet’s success down to the availability of mediators, free on the day of the first appointment. Janet started this service five years ago and still maintains it with the help of other experienced mediators. The application will be adjourned by the Justices or the District Judge for mediation, if the mediator on duty and the parents and grandparents agree to attend for further sessions outside the court environment.
Janet’s presentation was well received and is available to speak to other groups of grandparents on request.