Divorce, separation or dissolution of a civil partnership can leave families fractured – with extended family members such as grandparents unsure of their rights and whether they can have contact with any children of the relationship.
This can be especially traumatic if the breakdown in the relationship was acrimonious.
In cases where one parent may not be a UK national or may live or work overseas, there may also be additional fears surrounding the future of the children caught between two parents – and whether at some point they might be taken abroad to live.
Although grandparents have no legal rights over a child unless they have Parental Responsibility (eg as a child’s guardian), the family court recognises that it is usually in the best interests of a child to have contact with extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.
There may also be other siblings or stepbrothers and stepsisters involved if parents have children form other relationships, or go on to have children with a new partner.
If family relationships need to be maintained through contact with grandchildren or nieces and nephews, it is possible to apply to the court for a court order to establish contact with children after parents separate, divorce or dissolve a civil partnership.
This is also possible if parents did not marry or form a civil partnership, but lived together before separating – or even if they lived apart after having a child together.
The family court will take into account a number of factors and decide whether it is in the child’s best interests to continue contact with extended family.
Extended family members such as grandparents who regularly provide a home for their grandchildren, perhaps because of parents’ circumstances, may also apply for a Child Arrangement Order – formerly called a Residence Order or Contact Order – or a Special Guardianship Order, to formalise the arrangement whereby children stay with them on a regular basis.
Under a Child Arrangement Order or Special Guardianship Order, extended family members providing a home for children on a permanent, regular, or temporary basis would acquire Parental Responsibility.
As well as extended families, some relationships may involve what is termed alternative family members – this might include LGBT couples where children are born after IVF and the donor is a close fried who wishes to have contact with their biological child. In these cases, it is possible to apply to the family court for Parental Responsibility.
Parents may also have to apply to the family court if they simply lived together without formalising the relationship and wish to share joint custody of their children – or any siblings from previous or future relationships – so children can maintain contact with extended or alternative family members.
UK immigration law may have an impact on contact with children – especially if extended family members without the right to reside in the UK are to play a role in caring for children on a permanent or regular basis.
Under Regulation 8 (2) of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 there are several factors taken into account to establish whether a person who is normally resident outside the EU can be considered extended family. The court would take into account their present membership of a household and any previous qualifying membership – as well as present family dependency and any previous family dependency.
Duncan Lewis children lawyers can advise on the rights of extended family members or alternative family members under UK family law and EU law – including applying for Child Arrangement Orders or Parental Responsibility.
Duncan Lewis also has a highly successful immigration department, able to advise on immigration law and relevant points of law for extended family members involved in international marriage and divorce.
Duncan Lewis is also a leading adviser on Islamic marriage and divorce.
In cases where agreement cannot be reached over child contact between family members, Duncan Lewis can also arrange Family Mediation to help the parties work through the issues and reach a solution, without recourse to the courts.
The courts will always take into account the welfare of the child so working through any differences within lawyer supported Family Mediation can help avoid traumatic court action.
The parties involved can appoint their own Duncan Lewis child care lawyer to give independent legal advice at every stage of the mediation process – Duncan Lewis’ own Mediators include Resolution qualified Professional Practice Consultants.
Duncan Lewis is ranked by the Legal 500 2014 for its Family & Matrimonial work – and the Duncan Lewis team includes Advanced Members of the Law Society’s Family Panel, and members of the Law Society Children Panel – so our team is well placed to help you with any issues involving extended or alternative family members.
Duncan Lewis children lawyers offer a fixed fee for an initial client interview and assessment of a private child matter involving extended or alternative family members.
After a case has been assessed, it is usually possible for a fixed fee arrangement to be put in place – and Duncan Lewis will always advise clients of the costs in advance.
Duncan Lewis is also one of the UK’s largest providers of Legal Aid family law services – including child care law – and in some cases may be able to offer Legal Aid funding for child care cases, including help with the costs of applying for court orders if a client is on benefits or has a low income.
Duncan Lewis children lawyers always advise clients who are seeking help with child care matters – or who are in dispute over child contact and access arrangements for extended family members – to get in touch as soon as possible before the situation escalates.
Once you have contacted Duncan Lewis, we can act swiftly in any child care matter and put in place measures to help resolve the issues and prevent further dispute and/or legal costs mounting up.
For expert legal advice on all child care matters – including Extended Family or Alternative Family child contact and access arrangements – contact Duncan Lewis Children Lawyers on 020 7923 4020.