When a marriage breaks down, the vast majority of the focus is, quite rightly, on the separating couple and their children. However, in many families, they are not the only casualties. Grandparents often play a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren, from collecting and taking to school to having them to stay in the holidays and providing another source of advice, financial support and cuddles.
Yet they are often side-lined during a divorce as details are thrashed out such as where the children are going to live and with whom. Often, their feelings are never taken into account. If one partner chooses not to see their children anymore, for example, this can extend to his or her wider family and can cause much resentment. Likewise, if one half of the couple tries to withhold contact from their ex-partner’s family, this can have a devastating effect on the grandparents involved.
Talk it through
If a grandparent wishes to retain contact with a grandchild after the child’s parents or carers separate or divorce, their first recourse should be an appeal directly to the separating couple. Mediation can be a useful tool at this stage, in order to allow everyone involved to state their wishes and to discuss the way forward to reach an amicable arrangement. Provided that the grandparents are not causing any harm to the child, it is usually very much in the child’s best interest to allow contact to continue with their wider family.
How the law can help
If, however, contact arrangements cannot be agreed in this way, grandparents can potentially turn to the law to help. While they do not have an automatic right to see their grandchildren under the current laws of England and Wales, grandparents can apply for a Child Arrangement Order under the Children Act of 1989. This sets out the time they can spend with grandchildren and applies specifically to cases where grandparents have provided significant support such as regular childcare, or been an important presence in the child’s life due to frequent contact or specific living arrangements.
Nicely does it
Once contact has been agreed upon, it is vital that everyone involved works to make it as comfortable and straightforward as possible for the child. Disagreements should never be aired in front of a child, nor should they be party to written disputes, such as acrimonious texts, emails or social media postings. Never complain about either of their parents to them, or in their hearing and never ask them to choose sides – whatever you may think of your own child’s ex-partner, remember that they are also a parent to your grandchild and doubtless still loved very much by them. Aim to stay out of the disputes happening between the parents and keep conversation topics as positive and fun as possible.
Finally, try to establish time with just you and the children, rather than simply dropping in to visit when they are with a parent. Special time spent just with grandparents can be immensely fun for children, not to mention a chance to get away from problems happening elsewhere. There is much benefit to be had in maintaining intergenerational relationships and your wisdom and life experience could prove invaluable to them if they are faced with worries of their own.