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Ruth Hawkins, Founding Partner

What happens to the wider family when parents separate?

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It’s that time of year when families come together, and grandparents and aunts and uncles get to see more of their grandchildren and nieces and nephews. But what happens when parents have separated?

It obviously depends on the circumstances, but my starting point would be to advise clients who I am acting for as a solicitor, or couples with whom I am mediating, that it is generally really important for children to maintain those links with their wider families on both sides.   It is often easier to deal with your ex’s parents or siblings than your ex, so there is often no reason for contact with family members to suffer, just because you and your ex no longer get on.

It is hard enough for the children when their parents have split up, without also having to deal with the consequences of losing contact with grandparents.  Very often, grandparents have unconditional love for their grandchildren, and this is usually a healthy relationship, so it is important to maintain it, if possible, and it is often the case that it becomes more important, as grandparents or wider family members support contact between the children and the parent they’re not living with.  I would ask whether their children should be deprived of this relationship simply because  one parent is angry with the other parent?

The law does not give any defined rights to grandparents or family members.  They do not have the right to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order, unless the child has been living with them for 3 years or more.  But they can bring an application for ‘Leave’, or permission, to bring an application.  And there are wider calls for more rights for grandparents to be put into Law, so there is always that possibility that the Government could bring in more formal rights for grandparents and extended family members.

Here are some top tips or things to consider.

  • Try not to take out your frustrations on your ex, against your ex’s family. Definitely try not to do it in front of your child or children.
  • Remember grandparents often have a special relationship with their grandchildren. Yes, they may spoil them at times, but they can also help out practically, as well as emotionally. If the grandparents have a healthy relationship with your children, think long and hard about severing or reducing that.
  • Remember that healthy relationships with their grandparents or wider family can really help your children cope with the trauma they may be experiencing from seeing their parents split up. Maintaining those relationships may cause less disruption in their day to day lives, and make it easier for them to transition through your divorce and separation.
  • Spending time with their grandparents, whenever that can happen, may be a routine for them that makes life feel like it has some semblance of safety and security.
  • Don’t deny your children the support system they may have come to rely on because of your own difficulties with your ex or his or her family.

Remember that divorce and separation is tough for everyone involved. If you, or your children need help in dealing with the trauma or stress that it produces, there is help out there. Speak to your GP, or to your solicitor or mediator, as very often we will have knowledge of counsellors or support services which might be out there. You can also consider using a Child Inclusive Mediator to assist your child or children in expressing their views and concerns about what is going on around them, as very often they will feel quite helpless and lost in the process.

Ruth Hawkins

Family solicitor and mediator

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