Losing contact with a grandchild can be extremely painful and distressing, and can happen for a number of reasons. 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 especially in cases of divorce or separation when there's hostility between parents, 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 with 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.

Mediation

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 focusing on the future and save stress, time and money by allowing you and your family to find your own solutions and reach an agreement.

When a parent dies or loses touch with their children

Having no contact when a child loses a parent can be extremely difficult for grandparents and other family members to deal with. This is particularly true when it’s your child who has died and you've lost contact as a result.

In this situation, you could talk to the remaining parent about how the wider family can help to support them and their children. If a child loses a parent and then doesn’t see their grandparents it can feel like a double loss, but be sensitive that everyone will be grieving, and that relationships may take time to feel normal again.

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 your grandchild is being looked after by the local authority, there can be issues 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 you seeing your grandchild 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). 

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 a checklist that includes the child’s wishes and feelings and any risk of harm there may be to the child. 

Most people obey a court order but some will be so opposed that they will ignore 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. Bear in mind that it will be reluctant to do this to a parent who is caring for the child because of the impact on the child.

Click here for a list of useful organisations.