We at SMQ legal Services often come across questions like these and many more. For example, I am not allowed to spend time with my grandchildren – what can I do?
Generally, grandparents do not have an automatic entitlement to make an application for a CAO under section 8 Children Act 1989 and they must obtain permission from the court before they can apply.
Taking the matter to court should normally be the last resort for anyone seeking contact with a child or grandchild: it can be costly, time consuming, emotionally stressful and puts a lot of strain on family relationships.
In the event that there is a breakdown in the relationship between the parent(s) of your grandchildren and you, it is to be hoped that arrangements could still be made for the children to continue to spend time with their grandparents. In those circumstances grandparents often play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren.
Sometimes it is possible to resolve things by mediation and other forms of dispute resolution. Mediation may help avoid the need for costly legal proceedings that can be quite stressful. In fact, before issuing an application for an order providing that you can spend time with your grandchildren (called a child arrangements order (CAO)) you are now required by the rules governing these applications to attend a meeting with a mediator to see whether mediation might be suitable, rather than using the court. The meeting is known as a mediation information and assessment meeting (a MIAM). This requirement applies unless certain exemptions, including issues relating to the safety of the child or domestic violence, apply.
At SMQ Legal Services we can explain whether your circumstances are such that the court would not expect you to attend a MIAM. The other party to the proceedings will also be encouraged to attend mediation. If you are willing to attend together then the mediation meeting may be conducted jointly; otherwise, separate meetings will be held.
There are various court proceedings and Orders where grandparents become legally involved in their grandchildren’s lives such as Residence Orders and Special Guardianship Orders. Sometimes grandparents may become involved as a party or intervenor as part of care proceedings initiated by the Local Authority rather than a CAO application which is commonly referred to as an area of private children law.
So how do the courts’ approach applications by grandparents?
In the case of Re J (Leave to Issue Application for Residence Order)  1 FLR 114, the court considered the application of a Grandmother to make an application for a residence order in respect of her grandchild that:
“…it is important that trial judges should recognise the greater appreciation that has developed of the value of what grandparents have to offer, particularly to children of disabled parents. Judges should be careful not to dismiss such opportunities without full inquiry.”
The Court in the case of B (A Child)  EWCA Civ 737 was similarly concerned with the application of a Grandmother to be joined as a party to care proceedings in a desire to look after her grandchild. The Court agreed that they should give careful consideration to the value of what a grandparent could offer, such as keeping the child within the family, however it also stated that there were varying degrees of investigation required to explore the application whether it be a full hearing with reports and oral evidence, or a limited investigation by the Local Authority that uncovers overwhelming reasons why the grandparent’s application was not arguable. The mere fact of being a grandparent is not enough for an application for leave to apply to succeed.
If it is not possible to reach an agreement in relation to when and for how long you spend time with your grandchildren, then an application may be made to the court for a CAO that specifies the contact to take place between you and your grandchild.
If you’re currently in dispute over where your grandchildren will leave/ or your contact with them, we at SMQ Legal Services can help you. We can talk you through anything you need to know about Child Arrangement Orders, Parental Responsibility Orders or the Family Court.
We are here to help.
By Lenny Phiri
Re J (Leave to Issue Application for Residence Order) 1 FLR 114,
B (A Child)  EWCA Civ 737