Children Law on the Cobbles

I have been a big fan of Coronation Street, ITV’s gritty northern soap, for many years and never miss an episode.

The story lines often throw up legal issues, particularly family law issues. The latest story line to do this is the story of half-siblings Max and Lily. Max is David Platt’s stepson from his marriage to Kylie and Lily is his biological daughter with Kylie. Both children continued to live with David following their mother’s death a few years ago. Unfortunately, David is now serving a prison sentence for defrauding his grandmother. Whilst he has been in prison the children have been cared for by his partner, Shona. Shona loves the children and looks after them well but Max, who is now approaching his teenage years, has been presenting increasingly challenging behaviour following David’s imprisonment.

One day, after Shona has shouted at him, Max goes to see his paternal grandmother and tells her about the problems at home. (Her son, Max’s father, also died some time ago and she sees Max infrequently). She is appalled and immediately visits Shona to inform her that she will be applying for “custody” of both children. She then instructs the seedy local solicitor Adam Barlow.

I was pleased to see that Adam Barlow’s advice to his client about the procedure was spot on – you need to try to resolve things via agreement first; if that doesn’t work there needs to be a referral to a mediator for a MIAM and, as a last resort, you can issue an application to the Court. He also pointed out that, as she is a grandparent, not a parent, she would have to get the Court’s permission to make the application first. I don’t think I would have arranged a round table meeting in the Rovers Return (the local pub) though, as it is not a great venue for discussing confidential matters relating to children!

Eventually, Max decides that he wishes to stay with Shona but to see his gran on a regular basis and, given his age, the adults agree to respect his wishes.

The story line got me thinking about enquiries I receive from grandparents about their “grandparents’ rights”. In reality, there is no such thing – all the rights rest with the child or children. However, grandparents can make applications to the Court for their grandchildren to live with them or to spend time with them. There is the additional hurdle that they must obtain the Court’s permission to make the application but, once that hurdle has been overcome, the procedure is the same as for an application for a parent. However, if the grandparent’s son or daughter is spending time with the child on a regular basis, the Court would normally expect the grandparent to see the child when the parent spends time with the child. The Court is only likely to make a separate order for the grandparent to spend time with the child if the grandparent and the parent are estranged or the parent is deceased or not around due to something like imprisonment.

Joanna Toloczko, Head of Family Law. Please contact me on 020 3861 5155 or at jtoloczko@meaby.co.uk for further information and advice in connection with all children law matters.