Imran Khodabocus, a solicitor at The Family Law Company, looks at the issue of extended family members missing out on contact with children.
For most of us, getting together at big family gatherings such as weddings and christenings is a cause for celebration. But some adult extended-family members may find themselves excluded from the children’s lives for a number of reasons. It’s not just aunts, uncles and cousins who may be affected, this also applies to other family members such as grandparents – and others who are looking to have contact with children or are perhaps even seeking to look after the children.
If you aren’t being allowed contact, here’s some information about what you can do.
The first step is to approach the parents directly and see if an agreement can be worked out. When contact is arranged this way, it is far less stressful for everyone. One tip is to try to get the parents to see that their child (not you) may be missing out by not seeing you. If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself, consider enlisting the help of someone else, perhaps another family member who you both trust and who will remain neutral. Alternatively, try someone completely independent such as a mediator to act as a ‘go between.’ If you end up having to go to court, then you will usually be expected to have to attempted mediation first.
Applying to court
If these negotiations don’t work or break down, then extended family members normally have to apply for ‘leave’. This means getting permission from the court for a Child Arrangements Order.
When the court is deciding whether or not you should be granted leave it will look at areas like your connection with the child, the views of the parents and whether your application would cause disruption for the child.
If you get leave
Assuming you do get leave, the court will then consider your application for contact or for the child to live with you. At the heart of this decision will be what is in the child’s best interests.
Courts are increasingly recognising the role of extended family members in children’s lives, which is a good sign. Better health and longer life expectancy means that extended families are spending more time with children as they grow up. Therefore, the role of extended family members is becoming progressively more important.
What do to next
If you are an extended family member and feel excluded, miss spending time with a child or are looking after a child and think it unsafe for them to return to their parents, we can provide you with advice.
To make a free initial appointment please call 01392 421777. Our teams can assess you for legal aid and, in some emergency situations, grant legal aid in our initial meeting.