Family Law

Modern Families

2 AUG 2018

How do you maintain relationships with children when parents separate?

Historically advertising made us believe that the typical family unit consisted of Mum, Dad, brother and sister but we know that families come in all shapes and sizes.

Step – Families

Often children now have step-families that they spend more time with as shared care arrangements become more common on relationship breakdown. More children are spending time with each parent during the week, when their parents live in the same area, instead of a weekend visiting arrangement.

Step-parents can now be legally recognised by having parental responsibility. This can be given by agreement or court order. It takes nothing away from the natural parent and recognises the step- parent’s role in the child’s life.

Step-parents can also apply to the court, on relationship breakdown, for child arrangements orders (previously referred to as access or contact, custody or residence) for children of the family that determine the child’s living arrangements or what contact they should have with the person applying for the order.


It is not as easy for grandparents and other extended family members to apply to the court if there is a dispute about their contact with children following relationship breakdown. This recently led to some MP’s calling for a change in the law so that the Children Act refers to a child’s right to have a relationship with close members of their extended family. This would include grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Even where grandparents have played a larger role in caring for children, as can happen when both parents work full time, unless the child has lived with them for the last year or the parents agree to the application, they need the court’s permission to apply for a child arrangements order.

The court then has to consider their connection with the child, the nature of their application and any risk of the application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent as to cause harm when deciding whether to give permission for the application.

Hopefully each parent makes sure that the children keep in touch with their extended family but this can be difficult as relationships can become strained at such an emotional time. Family members can be reluctant to take steps which could increase conflict, hoping time will heal perceived wounds.

If parents cannot agree on the arrangements for their children should the court have to, by law, ask about these relationships or should it be a child’s right to keep in touch with extended family members?

Top tips for extended family members

If the child’s parents separate let them know that you are there to offer support and a helping hand
Concentrate on letting the children know that they are loved and avoid any criticism of their parents, however strong the justification
Give children the clear message that they should always be able to love both parents and do not have to choose one parent over the other
Continue sending cards and presents on special occasions as normal
If the situation gets tricky, take legal advice. Experienced family lawyers will talk through all the options with you so that you can decide how best to deal with the situation

For more detailed advice contact experienced family law solicitors Barbara Richardson and Nicola Codd on 01524 401010.

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