After an ugly divorce or after a parent dies, grandparents may lose contact with their grandchildren. Contact can be particularly difficult if the grandparents live outside of The Netherlands. So what are the options for grandparents to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren in The Netherlands?
This post discusses what rights grandparents have to contact with their grandchildren.
Close personal relationship
Grandparents do not have an automatic legal right in Dutch law to contact or visit their grandchildren. Dutch law prescribes that the grandparents must first have a ‘close personal relationship’ with the grandchild. A close personal relationship is not just normal contact between grandparents and grandchildren. The Dutch Courts hold that for a case to be admissible, the grandparents must either have had a regular care role in the life of the children or extensive contact. Just being a cool grandparent and taking your grandkids to the zoo sometimes is not sufficient for a close personal relationship. This means that it is currently relatively hard for grandparents to obtain a contact arrangement via legal action.
There has been criticism of this strict point of view. A child has a right to know their background and develop relationships with close family. Based on recent a recent study, parliament has recently asked the government to review the legal status of grandparents. In Belgium, for example, grandparents do have a legal right to contact with their grandchildren. Dutch case law also appears to contravene a previous ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the state must guarantee that grandparents and grandchildren can have contact, enabling them to have a normal relationship.
Best interests of the children
If the court finds that the case is admissible, as a close personal relationship has been established, there is a second hurdle to be taken. Visits and/or contact must be in the best interest of the grandchild. If there have been previous conflicts between grandparents and the parent, then the court may still find against the grandparents. If the children are very young and have not seen their grandparents for a long time, this may also be a factor in refusing or limiting a contact arrangement.
Consequences for grandparents living abroad
The double test of a close personal relationship and the best interest of the children, can mean that grandparents abroad are at a serious disadvantage. However, as a recent appeal case proves, it is not impossible to have a case heard.
The facts of the case were as follows. The parents were divorced and the children had little contact with their father after the divorce. The father’s parents lived in Scotland, but before the divorce they had frequent contact with their three grandchildren. The grandparents owned the house in The Netherlands that the family had previously lived in. Attached to the house was an annex where they stayed virtually every school holiday. The children could walk in or out at any time and frequently did so.
The lower court originally held that this was not enough for a close personal relationship, but the appeal court ruled differently. The frequency and type of contact was enough to prove a close personal relationship, taking into account that the frequency of contact for grandparents living abroad will be different. The appeal court therefore held that the type of contact was more intensive than usual for grandparents living abroad.
The appeal court also took into account that due to the limited contact between the father and the children, it was all the more important that they had a bond with their father’s family. However, the appeal court ordered a further investigation into what contact arrangement would be in the best interest of the children before making a final decision. Disappointingly for the grandparents, the appeal court did not order an interim arrangement until child protection services finished their investigation.
Difficult but not impossible
As a grandparent, we advise that you keep up a sustained effort to contact your grandchildren by whatever means possible. Try to also maintain a respectful relationship with the parent. Discuss alternative solutions, such as mediation or try to find another family member to broker a visiting arrangement.
If all else fails, then legal action can be taken. But do not wait too long, as the family bond can fade quickly. The Dutch courts are hesitant in granting visiting arrangements with grandchildren. However, public opinion is changing on this front and pressure is being put on politicians to change the law.
If you have any questions regarding contact arrangements for grandchildren, please contact us.