The role of a grandparent in a child's life is unique to every family situation. It's an unfortunate reality that those situations sometimes involve conflict – and where there is a breakdown in the relationship between a grandparent and their grandchild's parent or parents, that can then cause problems in maintaining the grandparent/grandchild relationship.
A parent's rights to be involved in their child's life is accounted for in black and white in Scottish law, but when it comes to grandparents, it's less clear to many what their rights are. So, what does the law say about it?
In Scotland, the law changed in October this year when the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 came into force. One of the reasons the Act was introduced was to include the wider family unit in court decisions made about a child's future, in recognition of the fact that the likes of siblings and grandparents can play an important role. Feedback provided during the consultation process showed that some grandparents had wanted automatic rights to be granted in relation to their grandchildren, while others felt that existing measures were sufficient and there was no need for the law to be changed.
The fact is that the new legislation does not provide any significant changes for grandparents. Ultimately, it was decided that grandparents should not be specifically referred to. Instead the new law states that, when making an order relating to a child, the court shall consider, among other things, "the child's important relationships with other people." Basically this means that, if appropriate to a particular case, the court will consider a grandparent – or indeed any other person who is important in the child's life – when making any decision about their future.
(You can find out more about how the new legislation in Scotland relates to siblings and grandparents in my colleague Kate's blog.)
So, what can you do if you're being prevented from being part of your grandchild's life or contact with them is limited?
The first step is to consult with a family lawyer, who will be able to advise on what course of action best fits your situation. Depending on the circumstances of your particular case, possible options are:
- contact your grandchild's parent(s) directly, if you haven't already done so;
- have your lawyer contact your grandchild's parent(s) on your behalf;
- use an alternative way to resolve the issue with your grandchild's parent(s), for example via mediation, arbitration or collaboration – all of which avoid having to go through court; or
- raise a court action, asking the Sheriff to grant you a contact order to enable you to have contact with your grandchild.
Having advised grandparents who have had various difficult situations to deal with, what I would say is it is possible to resolve the issue without going to court; in fact, it's usually always the case that court action is used as a last resort.
It's also worth noting that the new legislation that's in force in Scotland does not change the fact that, if a decision has to be made by a Sheriff, the main consideration in that decision-making process is upholding the best interests of the child.
For more information about the options available, or to have a chat about your situation, get in touch.