Do grandparents have a right to see grandchildren?

Wealth Preservation / 23 July 2018

Last year Age UK published figures showing that 40% of grandparents over 50 were involved in the daily care of their grandchildren.  This is a role which older family members, especially grandparents, take for granted; giving time, energy, financial help and unconditional love.

What happens when the parents of those grandchildren decide to separate and/or divorce?

Where there is a breakdown in the parental relationship, contact between grandparents and grandchildren, which has been a regular feature of the children’s lives, may become less frequent.  In some cases of entrenched hostility by one of the parents, contact may cease altogether.  Yet, currently, grandparents have no automatic right to take legal steps to prevent what may be a devastating loss, not only to them but also to the children concerned.

Only people with parental responsibility (such as parents, step-parents or guardians) can make an application for a child arrangement order, which sets out where a child lives or the contact they have with a person.  As a general rule, grandparents do not have an automatic right to be part of such proceedings and may only be added with the court’s permission.  This leaves them voiceless, particularly in the initial stages and, arguably, at the very time when grandchildren may be most vulnerable and most in need of the continuity and calm that can be offered by their grandparents.

Where there is conflict, how can a grandparent get contact with grandchildren?

The following options are available to grandparents:

  • They can engage in mediation – this can be with one or both of the children’s parents.  This can provide a quicker and, possibly, a more amicable way to resolve issues than going to court.  The court expects parties to consider this process before they issue legal proceedings.
  • They can apply to be joined as a party to existing proceedings – this should be considered at an early stage and with the benefit of legal advice.
  • They can seek a special guardianship order – this allows grandparents or other relatives to share parental responsibility for the children with the parents.  This is only likely to happen in extreme cases.

What does the court consider when giving permission?

A court’s paramount consideration is always the welfare of the child and it will look at each application individually.  It will consider the following criteria:

  • welfare needs of the children and whether by allowing an application to proceed would cause risk or harm to a child;
  • nature of the application and the applicant’s connection to the child or children; and
  • the views of the parents.

Future changes?

On 2nd May 2018 the issue of grandparents’ rights of access to their grandchildren was raised in Parliament.  Following that discussion, MPs are calling for a change to the Children Act 1989 so that grandparents do, in those circumstances, have the right of representation in proceedings concerning the arrangements for the children of the family.  Unfortunately, given Parliament’s current focus on issues around Brexit, it is unlikely we can expect a change to the law in the very short term.

If you are a grandparent and need advice on how to maintain contact with grandchildren, please contact our Family Team who will be happy to help.

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