The bond between a grandparent and their grandchild is often regarded as one of the most precious relationships in life. Grandparents are free of the stresses of parenting and can simply enjoy a fun and loving relationship with their grandchild. Often this relationship can be of great benefit, not only to grandparent and grandchild but also to busy parents who can have some valued time off from parenting.
What happens to those grandparents for whom a relationship with their grandchild is impossible due to refusal by either or both parents to allow them to have contact time with their grandchildren? Often this can happen when the parents have separated and acrimony develops amongst the wider family.
If contact between a grandparent and their grandchild cannot be agreed then a grandparent may apply to the Court for permission to bring an application for a Contact Order. This application is made under the Children Order (NI) 1995. At first instance permission must be sought from the Court to bring such an application. In all but exceptional circumstances this permission is granted. The Court then considers in more general terms the grandparent’s application for contact. Each parent would be a party in this application. They are entitled ask the Court to consider any objections which they may have in relation to contact.
The Court would consider all the circumstances of the case and in particular the best interests of the grandchild involved. The Court may ask a Court appointed Children’s Officer to speak to the grandchild in order to establish what his/her views are in relation to contact with their grandparent. The grandchild’s views will be taken into account. How much weight the Court places on their views will depend on their age and understanding.
In family law, whilst Courts are sympathetic to grandparent’s applications for contact and are aware of the importance of such a relationship, a grandparent would not generally expect as much contact as a parent who is living apart from his/her children.
In some exceptional circumstances a grandparent may apply for their grandchild to reside with them. This would generally be in cases where the parents are not providing adequate care for their child. If a grandparent is awarded residence they automatically acquire Parental Responsibility for the child for so long as the Residence Order remains in place.
Whilst the Court process is available for grandparents who cannot agree suitable contact, it is of course of benefit to all concerned where possible for contact to be agreed without recourse to the Court process.