Grandparents often play a very important role in a child’s life. In modern society, grandparents are significantly involved in their grandchild’s upbringing. With more parents returning to work full time, grandparents frequently take care of their grandchildren on a steady basis, particularly during school holidays.
Unfortunately, if a marriage has broken down, it can be common for contact between grandparents and their grandchild to be reduced or stopped completely.
Getting a divorce is upsetting for all parties, but is even more distressing for children. With this in mind, it’s best for grandparents to try and reach a casual contact agreement. You should firstly reach out to the parents and ask their permission informally. If grandparents have any unresolved conflicts with their own adult children, they should attempt to repair damage and mend any hard feelings. You can always speak to our Relationship Counsellor to help work through any issues you may have.
But even with the best efforts, grandparents are sometimes denied access to see their grandchildren. In that case, do grandparents have rights?
Do Grandparents’ Rights Exist?
The short answer is no. It’s frequently thought grandparents have legal rights to see their grandchildren, but sadly they do not.
It’s important you try to maintain a stable relationship with your grandchildren as they face an uncertain, difficult time during their parent’s divorce.
However, if your method of attempting to repair your relationship with your own adult children does not work, or if you have another reason for being unable to see your grandchildren, you are able to ask the Court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangement Order.
Taking the matter to Court should be a considered as a last resort. A Child Arrangement Order can be expensive, costing at least £215 just to apply. Obtaining grandparents’ rights through a Child Arrangement Order is also time consuming and can have a greater impact on the child.
Applying for Grandparents’ Rights
Grandparents’ rights aren’t automatically given. You must apply for permission to start proceedings for a Child Arrangement Order under the Children Act 1989.
Before you ask the Court for permission, you must normally attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to avoid Court by attempting to settle your differences with your adult child.
If you still wish to apply to the Court for permission, you should seek legal aid. It’s strongly recommended you get advice about grandparents’ rights to understand the official paperwork and fill in the right forms.
Initially, you are only requesting the Court for permission to apply for a court order. The Court will think about the child’s circumstances and will always consider their interests as a priority.
Going to Court
If the Court grants your request for permission, you will attend a court hearing before a Judge. This is known as the directions hearing. Your family law solicitor can represent you and will advise you on the best way to proceed.
After the directions hearing, the Judge will likely need time to make a final decision. Another court hearing will be arranged; again, your solicitor can represent you.
Your application for grandparents’ rights will additionally be sent to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). CAFCASS will investigate the child’s circumstances and anyone related to the child (including you), checking with Social Services, the police and other relevant bodies. CAFCASS may or may not make a report based on their findings; if they make a report the Court will take note of their recommendations. This can prolong the process and can affect the Judge’s decision.
At the second hearing, if all parties agree, the Judge will make a final order. This will set out an approved arrangement and can give grandparents legal rights to have contact with their grandchildren.
The final order may be contested by another party (for example, if the biological mother does not accept the agreement). You will need to attend a contested hearing and present evidence. A family law solicitor can help to ensure you have the right evidence for the hearing. The Judge will then take everything into account and decide whether grandparents should be allowed contact.
Getting Legal Help with Grandparents’ Rights
Applying to Court for grandparents’ rights is an extensive process. Even if you don’t intend to take the matter to Court, we can still help. Major Family Law offers advice on counselling, lawyer-supported mediation, and can provide full legal support and court representation if necessary. If you need any more information about grandparents’ rights, please contact us.