Many grandparents have limited or no contact with their grandchildren for a number of reasons, although it is often because of family conflict following a divorce or separation. When conflict takes place and relationships break down it’s important from the child’s point of view that their relationships with adults are maintained.
Most families manage this informally, but when hostility between parents occurs, contact can be difficult and may spill over into other relationships. In those circumstances, the parent who has the day-to-day care of the child might refuse to let the child have contact with the grandparents.
Talking it through
Family conflict thrives on poor communication and things said in the heat of the argument. Talking as a family, or one-to-one, should be your first step in building bridges and working out together how you can keep in contact your grandchild.
It’s essential to remember that you and the parents should put the wellbeing of the child at the heart of any discussion. If you feel you’re being drawn into the conflict and that harsh words are being thrown around by all involved, try and take a step back and remain calm. This is important as it’s also the key way to move forward and enable the rest of the family to be more constructive in working out what happens next.
If it’s impossible to talk face-to-face, you could write or email the parent or carer who is refusing contact. To help you get started we have a model letter/email.
Whether you meet face-to-face or contact the parent in writing, let them know that you miss your grandchildren and the relationship you used to have. You could also remind them that you can offer practical help such as picking the children up from school.
If your grandchildren are older, you could suggest that they are missing out on a sense of their own family history and identity which comes with knowing and sharing stories about how their grandparents were brought up and who else makes up their wider family. If the child is not seeing their other parent, a grandparent can help fill some of that gap and loss.
If it’s not possible to meet face-to-face you could suggest sending letters, emails, cards, or presents for special occasions as a starting point.
Sometimes family conflict is so difficult that professional help is needed. Family mediation can be a way forward, as it can resolve serious family disputes by focussing on the future and save stress, time and money by allowing you and your family to find your own solutions and reach an agreement.
Read more about mediation in our factsheet.
When a parent dies or loses touch with their children.
Having no contact when a child loses a parent can cause great anguish amongst grandparents and other family members. This is particularly true when it’s your child who has died and contact is lost as a result of this.
In this situation, you could talk to the remaining parent about how the wider family can help to make up for this loss. If a child loses a parent and then doesn’t see their grandparents it can feel like a double loss.
If a parent loses touch with their child, grandparents have a key role in being the link to the other side of the child’s family, and if you are in contact with the parent, you can tell the grandchild what their parent is doing.
Looked after children: when children’s services are refusing contact
If you grandchild is being looked after by the local authority, there can be difficulties around who the child can see. For further information please see the factsheets ‘Contact with children in care’ and ‘Contact with children accommodated by Children’s Services’ written by the Family Rights Group.
When all else fails: Child Arrangements Orders
There are many options to consider before taking the issue of contact to court, not least because legal proceedings can be very stressful and expensive and there is no guarantee of success. If you feel that you have exhausted other options, including mediation, and an agreement about contact cannot be reached, then you may be able to apply for a Child Arrangements Order for contact. This order determines who a child will have contact with and for how long.
Your first step is to arrange and attend a compulsory Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Further information can be found on our factsheet.
Once you have completed a MIAM and the mediator has signed the court form to confirm you have attended, you can ask the court for permission to apply for a court order for contact to see your grandchild.
You can only make an application for contact if the court gives you permission. In contact proceedings, the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration for the court. The court has to consider all the child’s circumstances and have regard to a checklist that includes the child’s wishes and feelings and any risk of harm there may be to the child. For further information see our DIY Child Arrangements Orders factsheet.
Most people obey a court order but some will be so opposed that they will defy it. If a person has failed to comply with a contact order you may wish to ask the court to use its powers to enforce the contact order. Where a contact order has been breached without reasonable excuse, you may apply to the court to:
- Impose a community-based order requiring a person to undertake unpaid work (this is known as an ‘enforcement order’).
- Award financial compensation from one person to another. For example, if the cost of a holiday has been lost as a result of a breach of a contact order, the person who has suffered actual financial loss can apply to the court for a financial compensation order in respect of that loss.
In extreme cases, the court can impose a fine or imprison someone for disobeying an order. It will be reluctant to do this to a parent who is caring for the child since the children would suffer or be deprived of their primary carer.
The Family Court without a Lawyer 1 – preparing for your first court hearing
The Family Court without a Lawyer 2 – the hearing itself
The Family Court without a Lawyer 3 – giving and challenging evidence
Family mediation can be the most effective method of resolving family disputes, especially where children are involved. Agreements that have been freely negotiated can help restore communication, understanding and trust. In most cases mediation must be attempted before applying for a Child Arrangements Order. You can get more information and find local services by going to the NFM website or calling the number above.
Coram Children’s Legal Centre – Child Law Advice Service
Advice line: 0300 330 5480 Monday to Friday 8am-6pm
The website has detailed information and advice on family and children law matters in England. It also has a section on court processes in private family law cases, and practical advice on representing yourself in court. The helpline is for advice on more complex matters and clarifying questions. CLC has a free factsheet on contact issues.
Families Need Fathers is a charity chiefly concerned with supporting all parents and grandparents to have personal contact and meaningful relationships with children following parental separation. .
Offers advice and support on all aspects of family life.
Relate offers a range of services to help with couple and family relationships. You can talk to a Relate counsellor for free online. You can also book a telephone counselling session (there is a charge for this service) or find details of your nearest Relate service.
Samaritans provides confidential emotional support 24/7 to those experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You can talk to them any time you like, in your own way, and off the record – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal.
Use the Find a Solicitor database or phone the number above to find a solicitor in your area who specialises in family law and/or mediation
Resolution’s members are family lawyers and other professionals who believe in a constructive, non-confrontational approach to family law matters. Use the website to find a Resolution specialist in your area.