Valemus family partner speaks with the BBC

With news that Meghan Markle’s father is threatening US court action to establish visiting rights with grandchildren Archie and Lilibet, Joanna Abrahams, Family and Children Partner  has provided advice to grandparents in the UK seeking to establish contact with their grandchildren. Speaking with BBC Three Counties Radio, she reflected on the best way to approach difficult family relationships where grandparents want to build a relationship with their grandchildren but may be at odds with the parents.

Here she shares an overview of the issues and advice to bear in mind if you are a grandparent struggling in this situation.

You can also listen again to Jo talking further on child contact for grandparents with BBC radio here (fast forward to 19 minutes).

Your rights as a grandparent

Here, in the UK grandparents have no automatic right to see their grandchildren and therefore no automatic right to pursue a child arrangement order through the courts. However, they can ask the family court for permission to consider an order be made in their favour for contact. Essentially, this means there is another hurdle grandparents have to jump over in order to have the court consider their request.

“If permission to consider the request is granted, the court will then consider an order. In doing so, the court will take into account various factors, including the grandparent’s previous relationship with the children. This is why it is important to maintain some form of contact with your grandchildren, even if you aren’t seeing them in person. However, the most important factor is what the court deems to be in the child’s best interests.

“In general, the courts are sympathetic to grandparents in this situation. They often take into account the positive impact on the child of having a relationship with their extended family. Remember it is not about enforcing your ‘rights’ as a grandparent, but about what is best for the child. Having you in their life may be just that.

“Of course, before any application is made to court it is best to try and establish contact through communication with the parent or parents. Whether through mediation with a trained mediator (MIAMS accredited) or with the help of a solicitor who can help reach an agreement. In most cases the court will want to see that you have tried to reach an agreement through routes such as mediation before resorting to legal action.”

Advice to consider

  • Even if you aren’t seeing your grandchild face to face, try to maintain contact, even if that’s just over WhatsApp or Facebook (age allowing). It’s important to show that there is an ongoing relationship that is of positive benefit to the child
  • Don’t use this continued communication as an opportunity to bad mouth the parent to the child, stir up any ill feeling or gossip about issues in the family. Keep it positive and demonstrate that you are a supportive and loving influence in their life.
  • Try to maintain a good relationship with the parent or parents – even if there is an acrimonious divorce in progress and you are tempted to take sides. Arguments or accusations will not help your cause. This may be difficult as it is an emotionally charged situation, but this is where a mediator or solicitor may be able to help you remove triggering language from your communication and maintain a calm and neutral path to agreement

If you are a parent or grandparent struggling to establish or maintain contact with children, the family team at Valemus is here to help. With decades of experience, our friendly and empathetic lawyers can help you find the best resolution.

Find out more about Joanna and her experience here.

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