When relationships break down and children are involved, this can affect the children in a number of ways. Not only can it have an impact the relationship they have with their parents, but also their relationships with members of their extended family.
Family Courts recognise the important role that grandparents often have in the lives of their grandchildren so there is something you can do if a problem arises. The court will usually expect to see that you have tried to reach an agreement before making an application. However, if contact has broken down and you are unable to agree a way forward, you can apply for something called a Child Arrangements Order.
Some people have a right to make this application automatically (for example, a parent, guardian or someone with Parental Responsibility). For others, they first have to ask the court for permission (also referred to as ‘leave’) to make the application. Usually, grandparents have to apply for leave to make an application.
Leave to apply.
When you apply for leave the court will consider things like the nature of the application, your connection with the child as well as any risk that the application you want to make will disrupt the child’s life so much that they would be harmed by it. The court will also consider the merits of your application for a child arrangements order at this stage. You should be aware that the law is slightly different if the child is looked after by the Local Authority.
Importantly, if the court gives you permission to make your application, it does not necessarily mean that your application will be successful but it does mean that you are now entitled to make your application. You can then apply for an order that sets out the time that you spend with the child.
Application for a Child Arrangements Order.
A child arrangements order is an order which defines where the child should live, the time the child should spend with someone or otherwise have contact with them. This does not just mean face-to-face contact but can also include ‘indirect contact’, for example the exchanging of letters, emails or text messages, as well as things like Skype or FaceTime calls.
When making a decision about a Child Arrangements Order, the court’s paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child. When making a decision, the court will consider something called ‘the welfare checklist’ which includes the following things:
- the wishes and feelings of the child (considered in light of their age and understanding)
- his physical, emotional and educational needs
- the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances
- his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant
- any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the questions to be relevant, is of meeting his needs.
The court will be assisted by an organisation called CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) who represent children and make recommendations they believe to be in the best interests of the children. A CAFCASS officer will often call you before your hearing to ask questions about your application, or may ask to meet with you at court when you arrive. CAFCASS will then make recommendations to the Judge.
If you require assistance with any aspect of your application, follow our step-by-step guide to contact our clerks who will match you with the barrister who is best able to help you.