Info & Advice

How to negotiate time with your grandchildren

Most grandparents cherish spending time with their grandchildren. They are a source of delight and joy and reassurance, a sense that you have left a legacy in the world. What’s more, all that youthful zest and joie de vivre is a great tonic for the aches and pains of one’s later years.

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But happy times are fragile and things can go wrong. If the marriage breaks down, those regular, longed-for visits may slow to trickle – or stop altogether. This is especially likely if the separation was acrimonious as too many couples succumb to the temptation to use their children as pawns and bargaining chips, refusing visits and preventing contact to try and force the other parent to give in to their demands. This is a regular cause of extended onflict between separated parents and a frequent trigger for interventions by the family court – and if the children’s other parent is struggling to see them, grandparents are unlikely to get much of a look-in.

As fathers rarely receive full time care of their children, this issue is more likely to affect mothers of sons than daughters.

The legal possibilities

So, just what can grandparents do if they find themselves in this unhappy position, with a former daughter- or son-in-law hindering precious time with the grandkids?

You could go to court. In the jurisdiction of England and Wales grandparents do not have any automatic legal right to see their grandchildren. But the courts deploy the same fundamental principle as they use when ruling on contact disputes between parents: the best interests of the children. In most cases, spending time with grandparents is seen as important and beneficial and so the family courts will usually look favourably on requests for contact.

If the parent with whom the children live will not agree to you spending them, in the first instance, you as their grandparents will need to apply in court for permission to take legal action. This will only be granted if you can show that you made sincere effort to reach an agreement with the parent who is being difficult. This ensures that no one involved in this kind of family dispute will rush precipitously into court and risk further damaging already strained relationships.

Finding common ground

So, pick up that phone or email the other parent and do your very best to negotiate. Avoid discussing the specifics of the dispute or divorce – instead try to present yourselves as neutral bystanders who simply want to spend time with the children. You could raise the possibility of mediation or counselling – but of course, that does require the cooperation of the other parent. But the courts will appreciate any efforts made, even if they are unsuccessful.

If you are left with no other choice, do receive permission to apply for a contact order, and are then granted one, this will oblige the parent with whom the children live to allow visits and time with you. But such parents are unlikely to be very happy about receiving a court order, so your already strained relationship with them could be further damaged. Legal action should always be the option of last resort.

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