The role of grandparents in the life of their grandchildren is viewed by society as an important and valuable one. But grandparents actually have no specific legal rights, so if the relationship with the child’s parents breaks down, they may find contact severed. So, how do grandparents get an order to see their grandchildren? Read on for more information.
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What legal rights do grandparents have?
There is no such thing as “grandparent’s rights” in the UK and therefore they have no legal rights to spend time with their grandchildren or even to see them. This is because parents have the legal right to decide who gets to see their children and when.
When family relationships are cordial, this rarely poses any problems. However, if the parents of the child decide to separate or divorce, issues often arise.
What can grandparents do if they are stopped from seeing their grandchildren?
Only those who hold parental responsibility can apply directly to the court for an order in respect of children. However, it is open to grandparents to “seek permission” to apply for a court order. Grandparents must seek this permission before making an application for a child arrangements order for contact.
On the whole, courts are generally minded to give grandparents permission, and when doing so, will take the following into account:
- The grandparent’s relationship/connection with the children – grandparents generally have a close familial tie with their grandchildren. However, it may be that the relationship has been limited or is non-existent. If a close relationship with grandchildren has previously been enjoyed, then the court will take this into consideration when making its decision.
- The nature of the application – what is the reason behind the application and how the situation arose
- Whether there is any risk of harm to the grandchildren if the application is granted. There may be a risk that contact could disrupt the child’s life or cause them harm in some other way. In this case, the court will prioritise the child’s relationship with their parent because it is seen as being more important than the one they have with any wider family. If there are severe issues between the parents and grandparents, the court will need to decide if having contact will cause further problems.
- If allowing the grandparents to have contact with the children has any negative effects on the wider family
When an application to seek permission is made, the parents of the children are notified by the court. If the parent doesn’t object, then the application is more likely to be successful. However, if grandparents have reached application stage, and contact has been withdrawn, it is safe to presume that the relationship is acrimonious.
Where a parent objects to an application, the grandparents may still proceed, but it will be necessary to list the matter for a full hearing. Here, both sides will present their evidence for the court’s determination.
Generally speaking, providing there is a relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, leave is likely to be granted. When considering the application, both permission and the substantive child arrangements contact application, the court will take into account the welfare checklist as set out in the Children Act 1989. Additionally, in any case involving children, the court must always put the best interests of the child ahead of any other considerations, because, in law, this is deemed to be paramount.
What sort of contact might a grandparent get?
Contact between a child and grandparent can be direct, in other words, face-to-face, which can range from contact at a supervised contact centre to day or overnight stays. Contact may also be indirect, which can include telephone calls, FaceTime, or Skype, emails, letters, or gifts. Supervised or indirect contact may be ordered by a court if there hasn’t been contact between a grandparent and a child for some time to re-establish the relationship. It may also be ordered if there are safeguarding concerns.
Will the court grant a contact order to grandparents who haven’t seen their grandchildren for years?
Quite often, when contact with grandchildren has ceased, grandparents may be unaware as to how this can be re-established. Despite not having had contact for many years, grandparents can still make an application for permission to apply for contact. Grandparents who have lost contact should expect to initially receive “indirect contact”, which generally takes place via telephone, video, emails, texts, etc.
Can I get an immediate order in extreme circumstances?
While grandparents have no legal rights under normal circumstances, if the child’s safety is considered to be at risk, then grandparents can take steps to intervene. In some situations, the court may decide it is best for the child’s safety for the grandparents to take over their care. This might include where:
- Parents are considered unfit to care for the children
- Parents wish the grandparents to have custody of the children
- Neglect/abuse at the child’s home
- Drug or alcohol abuse within the child’s home
- Parent is sent to prison
- Mental illness
The court will always take the child’s wellbeing into account when reaching a decision and focus on what is best for them, given the prevailing situation.
What are the alternatives to court proceedings?
If you have been denied contact with your grandchildren, the first step should be to try to negotiate with the parents and reach some sort of agreement. If this is not possible or impractical, or if communication between you is difficult, then you could turn to family mediation as a way to resolve your differences. During mediation, a trained mediator helps both sides to reach a satisfactory agreement without the need for any court applications. If the parents refuse to attend mediation or it fails, then you may have no alternative but to make an application to court.
There is no doubt that courts these days are much more sympathetic to applications by grandparents than they were years ago. If you are a grandparent who has lost contact with their grandchildren, it is worth seeking legal advice.
The information on this website is to be considered a guide and is therefore not legal advice. You use this information with the understanding that Wiselaw does not accept liability for any direct or indirect losses as a result of anyone relying on or acting upon the information on this website. Whilst we endeavour to provide accurate information, Wiselaw does not accept liability for any errors or omissions on this website.