As a grandparent, you will certainly love spending time with your grandchildren. But unlike parents, grandparents do not have any automatic rights to see the children after relationships break down. Thankfully, the courts recognise that grandparents are an essential part of a child’s life and will only refuse access in certain circumstances.
Our specialist family law solicitors understand the emotional pain caused by being denied access to your grandchildren.
When a relationship breaks down, parents have many difficult but important decisions to make, including where children will live and how they will split their time between the parents. During this time, it is common to feel like your views as a grandparent are not being taken into account. We see many cases where parents are reluctant to split time with their child further with the grandparents; or where the child has moved far away from the grandparents after the parents have broken up and moved to different homes.
We can provide simple, practical advice about getting access to your grandchildren. In most cases, we find that cooperative discussion is the best way to resolve these issues and find a long-term solution. Our family team includes Resolution-accredited lawyers who are perfectly placed to help you address the matter constructively. However, if you are unable to sort out contact with the parents, we can also help you apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order.
What rights do grandparents have?
Grandparents often play a vital part in a child’s life. Not only do they provide unconditional love and support, grandparents can provide assistance with childcare and contribute towards the child’s physical and emotional development.
However, grandparents tend not to have parental responsibility (the legal rights and duties associated with raising a child). This means they do not have an automatic right to contribute towards the child’s upbringing or to see them.
It also means that if a grandparent is denied access to their grandchildren, they do not have an automatic right to apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order.
How can grandparents get access to their grandchildren?
If possible, it is usually best to try and maintain a positive relationship with your son/daughter and their partner or former partner.
Court proceedings can be long and stressful for everyone involved, especially the children. Therefore, if the parents are willing, it is usually worth seeing if you can come to an informal agreement about access. We can help you try and negotiate such an arrangement, including helping you access methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) such as mediation and collaborative law.
However, if you are concerned that informal discussions will not solve anything or you have previously tried to come to an arrangement and been unsuccessful, we can provide advice about pursuing legal action.
Alternative Dispute Resolution for grandparents
Collaborative law is an ADR process that involves attending a series of round-table meetings with your grandchild’s parents to try to come to a voluntary agreement about contact. Both you and the parents will be accompanied by collaborative lawyers who will provide you with legal advice and help you keep the negotiations on track. If successful, the result will be a written document that sets out the terms of your agreement, for example:
- How much time you can spend with your grandchild
- Where and when contact will take place
- What other types of contact you can have, such as phone calls, emails, and overnight visits
Mediation is another option for working out children-related issues. It involves attending a meeting or series of meetings with your grandchild’s parents and a qualified mediator. The mediator is not like a judge; they will not make a decision for you or provide you or the parents with legal advice. Their role is to guide your conversation, facilitate constructive negotiation, and defuse any conflicts. Any agreement you come to at the end of the process will be entirely down to you and the parents.
Child Arrangements Orders for grandparents
If you cannot come to a voluntary agreement with your grandchild’s parents, we can help you take legal action.
The court order you will need to obtain is called a Child Arrangements Order. This sets out matters such as:
- Where a child will live
- Who they will have regular contact with and when
- What types of contact can take place
As a grandparent, you probably won’t have an automatic right to apply for a Child Arrangements Order but you can obtain permission to apply from the family court.
Before you can start any legal proceedings, you will need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is to see whether your case may be suitable for mediation. If it is not, or you have already tried mediation, you will need to apply to court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order. If the parents are currently going through children-related proceedings alongside their divorce, dissolution or separation, you may be joined to the existing proceedings.
Any decision the court makes will ultimately be made with your grandchild’s best interests in mind. Generally, it is beneficial for children to have a positive relationship with their grandparents, but the court must still take into account various factors called the “welfare checklist”. These factors include:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child (taking into account their age and understanding of the situation)
- Their physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect of any change in circumstances
- Their age, sex, background, and other relevant characteristics
- Whether the child has suffered any harm or whether there is any risk of harm
If the court decides to make a Child Arrangements Order in your favour, the parents will be legally bound to allow you contact with your grandchild according to the terms set out in the Order.