I am often asked about the court process, and although BGSG never advises grandparents to go down the the legal route, we understand that for some people it is as the last resort something you need to do.
it is important therefore for you to be able to read some grandparents own experiences in the process, you can then hopefully make an informed decision, into whether it is right for you and your family.
What have we learned from this second attempt that may add anything helpful to enhance the journey towards a change in the law?
Well from the judge’s comments to our daughter in law, he seemed to understand who the perpetrator of the alienation was. The positive aspect for us was to hear the judge speak to our daughter in law the way she should have been spoken to by her own parents and certainly what we would wish to say to her ourselves. He told her that the children needed to be encouraged to write detailed letters to us, keep our cards and letters in a memory box, separate for each child, and to be encouraged to visit us whenever they wished and even search for us on social media sites. All wonderful rhetoric but saying it isn’t going to mean any of that will be obeyed!
The advice we would give to anyone in similar circumstances where indirect contact was chosen for them, is to make sure it is documented as a first step on the ladder towards direct contact. It wasn’t written down in our case and our daughter in law ( who has studied aspects of law apparently and attempted some social work training)
has used that fact as leverage to keep us from progressing.
The whole family court set up seems to us to function in similar ways to so many other institutional services in our country. Dither long enough and the problem will sort itself out or circumstances will change, and it will then become some other agencies problem.
The family court system isn’t fit for purpose. It would seem evident to us that unless there’s a genuine safe guarding issue that it should be up to parents to prove that their children shouldn’t be in contact with their grandparents.
The problem with coercion ( which we see is the real issue) and emotional abuse, (which she has invented as if it was our sons’ take on preventing contact) is that neither is tangible nor able to be proven.
Even the judge said that court was no place to resolve, what he saw as family dispute.
It’s actually an individual with a personality disorder and a perpetrator herself of emotional abuse and neglect who is feeling threatened. Due to social distancing the Cafcass assessment had to be done by telephone only. All evidence of her issues of control, appalling neglect and chaotic parenting will have remained hidden.
We are saddened by the outcome but have learned that bitterness and resentment need to give way to forgiveness and a recognition that we all share common qualities of fairness, concern for our grandchildren’s emotional well-being and a commitment to make grandparent relationships matter. It seems to us that we owe it to this generation to help them to not repeat the mistakes that have so damaged their parental alienator.
We all make mistakes and no one is perfect, but that seems to be the point, that we continue to love our families whatever. The members of our wonderful grandparent support groups seem to prove that loyalty, persistence and above all, love for our vulnerable grandchildren is there in spades and needs to be harnessed for a much-needed change in emphasis.
There was conflict at the time of our Son’s divorce and arrival of his new girlfriend into the family (16 years his junior) Although it was his wife who first had an affair.
We’d always had a very close relationship with the 2 grandkids from the 1st marriage, however new girlfriend decided ( as was admitted during court proceedings ) that we were to be “substituted as grandparents by her parents“ As we’d only had “infrequent to minimal contact with the grandchildren” – not true obviously , in fact complete opposite…..New girlfriend, soon to be 2nd Wife, fell pregnant and relationships worsened not long after birth of this 3rdgrandchild . What followed then were several false accusations and contact was stopped altogether until we apologised (for the things we hadn’t actually done) We tried talking, letter writing, offered mediation but to no avail. 11 months, no contact with grandkids at all took place. In that period 1st wife joined ‘forces’ with our son & his new wife. As did my elderly mother (then 92) and my older brother.
A major family break-up.
It was then that we sought legal advice. – Feb 2014. Contacted a solicitor who was dreadful and very negative, but sought out another firm, and we were lucky to come across a very caring, empathetic solicitor. Initial letter request to the ‘parents’ from her was rejected, so we applied to the Family Court in Durham for permission to make a Child Arrangement Order. Our situation was slightly unusual as it was 2 separate cases involving the 3 grandchildren – they had different mothers, but all 3 had same father. We were all ordered, and agreed, to go to mediation, and ‘Separated Parents’ meeting. A date for final hearing was made but would only take place if no agreement was reached in the meantime.
Many twists and turns in those 8 weeks, but sadly no agreement reached. So, in July the final hearing took place. Son, daughter-in-law, plus ex-DIL opted to represent themselves. We had a barrister, and she was brilliant. A long day, and very nerve wracking. I could write you pages on the actual mechanics of what took place, but suffice to say by the end of the day we had a contact order and within 48 hours commenced contact with the elder 2 children ( aged 9 & 11 ) and soon after began contact with the 3rd ( who was then only 18months old )
6 years on we still have contact, approximately every 3 weeks. Not the ideal, but have enjoyed many happy moments and it has been so much better than nothing at all , and certainly a lot more than others have had. Those initial legal proceedings took about 6 months and cost us about £5000. It did come at a bit of a ‘price’ to our health & wellbeing, However we are sure the alternative ( i.e. no contact ) would have been far worse. Rollercoaster years with the adults. My mother, now 98 (and whom I was very close to) has completely cut me out of her life, as has my brother. A lot of ‘flack’ and anger & animosity has been thrown our way. We’ve had the Police visit – false accusations- and several other attempts to frustrate the Court Order. There has been many trying and testing moments, and several sleepless nights. Things are slightly better at present with son and DIL’s.
At the end of the day we do not regret ‘going to court’. At the time we believed we had little choice. It was either that or give up on seeing the grandchildren ever again. We had, considering the circumstances, a reasonably positive outcome. However, we are acutely aware that many others have not been so fortunate. That is so wrong, as it should be the same for everybody. The most ‘telling’ phrase the Magistrate used in her summing up was…. “Grandparents have a right to see their Grandchildren AND GRANDCHILDREN HAVE A RIGHT TO SEE THEIR GRANDPARENTS”. ` She gave heavy emphasis on the 2nd part and directed it very pointedly at our son & 2 DIL’s What a shame there is not more like her round the Country.
I went to Court, but it transpired that my daughter had been in so called counselling for 10 years. This counsellor implanted false memories by convincing her that she had had a terrible childhood and was beaten every day until I was spent. Her solicitor, who was also a part time judge at the same court, thereby knowing how to play the system, coached her to say that if I had contact she would suffer so much that she would be unable to look after the children. The Judge seemed to have no choice but to deny direct contact. I do have indirect contact but not sure if my cards are passed to my grandsons.
The Cafcass Officer seemed fine at first and promised to do everything to facilitate contact but changed totally in Court. At the end the Cafcass Officer cried! The counsellor gave evidence and when she entered the courtroom, she hugged my daughter.
A very unhealthy relationship.
The Judge saw through it as in his judgement he read out a very loving card from my daughter and said to her that she needed some serious psychotherapy away from that counsellor.
So I’m still not sure whether I did the right thing. On the one hand, it totally destroyed any relationship with my daughter, or any hope of a future relationship. But on the other hand, I know the cause of the estrangement and this has given me closure and the encouragement to move on and get in with my life.
I think it is the not knowing why we are treated so badly that is the killer. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and it nearly destroyed me.
Judge listened to none of my concerns or how much the children and this family loved each other.
Spend thousands of dollars and I finally just quit going after to see the children
In 2017 I decided to go to court to try to obtain a Court Order to have contact with my only grandson, who I had looked after several times a week virtually from birth until he was 3½ years old. I had built up a strong relationship with him, as had my partner. Relations between my daughter and myself had always been difficult, and following a falling out, she had refused to let me see him. I didn’t want to go to court but as mediation had been refused it was the only option left. I thought that the worst that could happen would be that I would lose the case and would be out of pocket for the legal fees incurred.
It never occurred to me that I would not be treated fairly and equitably by the court system. My solicitor, who I now think was not sufficiently experienced in this area of the law, did not warn me about the possibility of false allegations against me, but this first surfaced in an initial telephone interview with Cafcass. I could not believe it. I am of good character with no history of substance or alcohol abuse, no involvement with social services, and the extent of my police record is limited to one speeding ticket.
As a result of this, and after Leave of the Court to proceed was granted, there followed a face-to-face interview with a Cafcass officer. I was not unduly worried, and took with me a large folder containing photographs, emails, and the printouts of over 200 texts between my daughter and I documenting my close involvement with my grandson over at least two of the 3½ years under consideration, and showing that our relationship had at that stage been reasonably friendly. However, the Cafcass officer looked at only two of them before dismissing them as “A matter for your solicitor”. I was confused and horrified. Surely in the interests of fairness I should be allowed to present my evidence too.
Worse was to come when just before Christmas 2017 I received a copy of the Cafcass report. I felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach. It was highly biased against me and took my daughter’s lies (there is no other word for it) at face value without any evidence, for example that I had neglected her as a child, and harassed her, both of which were total fabrications. Fortunately, I could reassure myself of some indisputable facts. Neither her father (from whom I am divorced) nor her school had ever raised any concerns; on the contrary she had done well at school. It seems telling that nobody has suggested, not my daughter, nor her solicitor, nor Cafcass, that I ever abused or neglected my grandson or put him in any danger, and given what she has said about me, I don’t think I would have been spared had she had even a shred of ammunition. If I had really been such a terrible mother to her, would she have allowed me to look after her child for 3½ years, often on my own and overnight? However, as my evidence for this was disallowed, it strengthened her case and demolished mine. I can well understand how allegations of abuse could make grandparents suicidal, leaving aside the effects on the children.
The system is so rigged that allegations could only be challenged at a full court hearing, which was horribly expensive, and a built-in disincentive to taking matters any further, but I was furious and wanted a chance to clear my name. I wanted to have the Cafcass officer called to account and cross-examined for her appallingly biased report. At my solicitor’s recommendation, we consulted a barrister. He was rude and unhelpful, had me in tears within 10 minutes, and seemed to exist only to collect his exorbitant fee. He told me that the time delay of between 2 and 3 years in beginning proceedings would count against me, and that we had little chance of success. I still think that this was unfair given that there is of course no legal aid, and I had not immediately been able to raise the funds for legal proceedings. However I had still planned to go ahead until I was told that if I was unsuccessful, the entire costs of the case might be awarded against me, the other side’s as well as my own, which might amount to as much as £25-30,000, which would have meant selling the roof over my head to pay for it. I had become aware that even if I was successful, Court Orders were not in any case enforced. I was by this stage totally ground down, had lost any remaining faith in the fairness of the legal system, was psychologically in pieces and not sleeping. I felt I had no choice other than to drop the case.
Many questions remain. I don’t know to what extent my daughter’s solicitor put her up to telling the lies she told. I understand that it’s possible to obtain legal aid for up to five years by claiming domestic abuse, without the necessity to provide any proof, and am wondering whether the same rule applies in this case.
Given that the Domestic Abuse Bill is currently passing through parliament, how can this bullying and abuse of possibly vulnerable elderly people by the legal system be acceptable in a society that claims to be civilised? How can the way we are “held to ransom” by our adult children and their partners without redress not be considered abusive? Where are our human rights? It seems to me that the blanket of secrecy that covers the family court system is there in order to sweep it all under the carpet, and is the most cost-effective way for the establishment to deal with a problem that is, if not exactly insoluble, requiring far more time and resources than are currently available to the legal system. Parents can effectively ignore Court Orders because they are rarely if ever enforced – my guess is to avoid having to fine or imprison parents. Personally, I wonder whether this would act as a deterrent for parents – having done it once and suffered the consequences perhaps they would not then reoffend.
This was a totally negative experience, which has left me with absolutely zero trust in or respect for the judicial system. I have said before and will say it again, how can this possibly be justice?
We had been Alienated 6 years when we decided to go down the Legal route after all attempts at reconciliation had failed. Including mediation declined twice
We went down the legal route to bring son & DIL to the table to find out exactly what we had done wrong & to be able to let our GC know if ever they asked us in the future why we had not been in their lives, that we had tried everything
It was a very difficult route and not for everyone but despite this I felt it was right for us and we went into it eyes wide open
We had maintained throughout the parents were good parents but their life choices had excluded us and we were good people who should be in our GC’s lives and they in ours
The parents said we didn’t accept their life choices. We were both happy with their life choices
Court attendances very stressful, a lot of sitting around and waiting to be called. Often waiting in the same room as the parents. We had to travel a long way to the Court as it is held near where the children live. There was the added expense of accommodation near to the court
There was a lot of changing of dates and also venues of the hearing at the last minute, instigated by the parents. Also cancelled hearings reinstated at the last minute. Email on a Friday from our Solicitor saying we are in Court on the Monday after it had been cancelled.
We attended Court 4 times and including attempts at mediation lasted almost 1 year and cost £16,000. One month I got a bill for £4000. Although I felt I had researched a good legal team in Family law with hindsight I feel they don’t have enough cases for the experience. Someone was added to the legal team to deal with our case and bills shot up which I did query. Counsel was booked without clearing with us which was normally done. I was told it was the only one available. It appeared to be the most expensive. I questioned whether the legal team had our best interests at heart as they stated
Allegations came thick and fast towards us in statements to the Court from the parents. They said we were intimidating, undermining, malicious, hostile, sneering and accused us of harassment for taking presents for our GC. They said we had mental health issues and we were not good role models for our GC to be around. My DIL said I had been saying things to her every week on the phone about how she fed my GD. My son knows this didn’t happen. It was rare she came on the phone after our GD was born. Conversation usually with our son & DIL shouting hello in the background. Allegations were all unsubstantiated. The first hearing they announced they were moving out of the country in a couple of days so we couldn’t go any further. It would have to transfer to a Court near where they moved. We were devastated our son wasn’t even going to tell us he was moving. We were awarded leave of the Court on the second hearing. The Magistrate summed up she was concerned about the GC not seeing us and us seeing them but also our Son not seeing us. It did make us feel we were not the bad people we were portrayed but knew it didn’t mean we would get Direct contact. The parents continued to oppose us having Direct contact and threatened to stop Indirect contact that we had been doing for 6 years sending cards, presents, letters, photos at birthdays, Xmas and summer holidays. We didn’t know if our GC received these. They wrote a very threatening letter through their Solicitor saying why would we think the children would ever love us when they would tell them awful things we had said and done. We were threatened with paying their Legal costs. Cafcass were involved with 2 reports. The first appeared to go in our favour the second in parents’ favour. Things in the reports were not always accurate to the phone interviews done. The second Cafcass officer omitted to do a telephone interview with my husband despite me asking her. This was later asked for in Court. Although it stated our GC would have enjoyed time spent with us if the parents supported them. They were well behaved children and would go with what the parents chose. It would cause conflict to the family unit for direct contact. Cafcass did speak to the children and did a family tree with them. They called us Gran and Grandad but didn’t know us. We were strangers to them. We learned they did get cards and presents we sent but not sure of letters and photos. Our GS said they didn’t see us because we had been ‘nasty’ to mummy and daddy. Our DIL was distressed and crying in front of the Cafcass officer stating it was having an effect on their marriage. This would obviously impact the children. We were told legally the Magistrate/Judge always goes with the Cafcass report recommendation and Indirect was our only option. An Indirect order was granted. The parents have not fully complied with the order. My son is supposed to send photos, we have had 2 in 1 year. Photos where you can’t see what the children look like. He is supposed to send emails 4 times a year telling us about the children so I can include it in letters, so the children know we are in contact with their dad. He always writes similar general 3-4 lines not saying anything about them personally. Our GC were to be encouraged to write to us after gifts sent. We received thank you cards for the first time after the order which is great. I don’t think they will let them write letters. The parents put in the order we are not allowed to visit, email, or ring them without invitation and parcels addressed to parents not GC. We haven’t to mention in letters we send ever wanting to see/meet our GC. I don’t regret going to Court. I got answers I needed that I could never have resolved it. I had beaten myself up about what I had done wrong. It was clear my DIL had put the brakes on the relationship. The whole thing took its toll on me and my husband mentally and physically. Often, we were going to not carry on with it as the anxiety and stress felt after allegations, attendance in court sat next to your son and DIL was too much. We also were alienated by our other son who was told we had involved him in the court case which we hadn’t. I’m glad we did get the indirect order in place as we would not now know where our GC live and would no longer have been able to send the gifts, letters etc to them which we have consistently sent despite alienation. It also means through photo albums and letters sent to our GC we are kept ‘alive’ in our sons’ life and will be there if needed. I’ve always felt coercive control may be going on, it’s hard to know.
After not seeing our grandchildren for well over a year, we decided to see a lawyer. (Chosen for us as we had legal aid to help with cost) She said first she would write to our son and daughter in law to ask them to join us in mediation. They received her letter and flatly refused. They then knowing we had gone down the legal route, got themselves one of best lawyers’ money can buy! They then began their catalogue of exaggerations, twisted story of events, and downright lies. Our lawyer was very young and naively after listening to our true story, believed that we would get leave!
Not once did we exaggerate or lie, we were 100 percent honest! Our son went into details about his upbringing coming out with all sorts of stuff. Such as my alcoholism and depression (I had been in recovery 15 years at that point) and how he was neglected as a child. (He has a brother (3 years older) and this brother questioned Was his younger brother in fact brought up in the same home as him? As he had absolutely no memory of either of them being neglected in any way! We were called corrosive and damaging, and that we were a danger to our Grandchildren! We asked for contact to be at a contact centre ( as a last resort and desperate plea) but this was not even considered, as our Son and daughter in law said while the staff at the contact centre might be out of earshot we might lie to our Grandchildren about stuff! Also, that even though these Grandchildren had been in our care weekly from the age of 3 months Also while their parents went on Holiday on 3 separate occasions, they had not mentioned us in All this time! I also need to add that we at this point we’re only going to court to ask for Leave to apply for regular contact to our darling Grandchildren. The day we went to court to ask for leave, we were advised by our lawyer not to speak. She also Only asked for leave on our behalf, she then sat down. Their lawyer then stood and raised her client’s objections to Any contact! Saying we overrode any decisions the parents made. Us telling our Grandchildren to not tell their parents where they had been, and who they had seen. All Their twisted version of events and downright lies were raised. And Not once did the Children’s registrar raise the fact that we the Grandparents were just applying for Leave. Neither did our inexperienced lawyer who was completely run roughshod by Their lawyer. Also, we had No opportunity to explain ourselves! The registrar then said she was unable to make a decision that day, and that she would hopefully make a decision by Monday ( it was then Friday Afternoon) We heard nothing for over a week ( as she was taken ill) The next time we heard anything was a Email (from our Son and daughter in laws lawyer) sent on to us from Our lawyer. Saying that I Was Spiteful and Vindictive! (This was due My last contact with My Son and daughter in law) A Very Long Story. but one thing I will say is the punishment didn’t fit the crime. When we received the email, I knew that we would never see our darling grandchildren Again and I screamed and fell to the floor! Once we regained some calm my husband Emailed our lawyer saying we were Both Devastated by the result. I begged my husband to appeal the decision. My husband considered this to be Pointless as we had no chance of winning, and all it would do is cause more pain. Anyhow when my husband mentioned that I mentioned us appealing our lawyer then replied that this would not be in our best interest as we would not get legal aid. The one last thing our lawyer did was ask their lawyer if they would be willing to let us have one photo a year. The answer was no. We have never received a photo. Our grandchildren were just turned 7 years and 4 years old the last time we had contact. They will be 13 and 10 in September 2020.
When our son’s relationship with his girlfriend finally broke down, she placed an NMO (Non-Molestation Order) on him and told him that he would never see his son again. The irony of this is that she had been hurting our son both physically and mentally. Her outbursts had been witnessed by us and by our son’s friends, one of whom offered to be a witness in court to an incident in which he too was hurt by her.
Our son had been actively involved in his son’s life and was frequently left to look after him on his own when she decided to have a night out and even, for a period of time, when she left our son for another man. We would say that he had been the main carer for our grandson and we often helped out when he was managing alone and trying to hold down a job as well. She did not work and was claiming benefits!
It was important to challenge the NMO as this ruling would prevent our son from access. He wanted to file for custody but could not afford solicitor’s bills, so we offered to help him. From the outset, the solicitor told him that men rarely achieve sole custody and basically set him up to fail. Whatever happened, the NMO needed to be challenged and a barrister was hired at our great expense!
This barrister went to court with our son but, in the end, our son refused to sign a document drawn up by the barrister which said that his ex-girlfriend was “no longer afraid of him” and wanted to drop the NMO!! He said that he had never done anything to make her afraid of him and had only loved her and tried to provide a home for her. The document was rewritten taking out that clause so, basically, our son could have represented himself!
At the last minute she decided to withdraw the NMO mainly because she knew that our son was prepared to fight her in court for custody and that she would have to start paying court costs to match the costs we were to incur!
CAFCASS had previously investigated and discovered that she had past criminal convictions for violent behaviour and had even spent time in prison after failing to do community service for one of these incidents. They also highlighted her use of cannabis.
All of this evidence was presented to the court, but they still ruled that residency could be with her as long as she was living at her parents’ house where Children’s Services said that our grandson would be “safe enough”! (One of the almost unbelievable reasons that they gave for giving her residency was that, as she did not work, she would be around more to take care of our grandson)
Our son then capitulated and agreed to this as he was afraid that he would lose access to his son altogether. In the end he was granted 50/50 custody which, of course, we know does not work, as her family have the power and she has control.
Our view is that the court system favours the mother regardless of her parenting skills or lack of them. The non- resident parent is still expected, as our son was, to be fully involved in all aspects of child care but when it comes to custody battles, they do not have the same rights.
As paternal grandparents we were completely ignored and side-lined, even though we had contacted Children’s Services when she had accused us of kidnapping our own grandson who was staying with us at the time. At no time, in the whole process, did anyone from the courts ask to see and yet we were the people who were trying to protect our grandson from harm because we loved him so much.
Thank you to all the grandparents who have given their permission to share their experiences with you.