Grandparents Rights

Grandparents rights are often the first to be forgotten about when family life becomes unsettled or disrupted following a divorce or separation of the parents.

Many family members including parents and grandparents will be concerned about whether they would be able to have contact with their children and grandchildren.

Our family lawyers are often asked what are grandparents rights when they are denied access to their grandchildren. The unfortunate reality is that there are no automatic rights to contact with the grandchildren for grandparents. Family courts however do recognise the role that grandparents have to play in their grandchildren’s lives and will usually grant access to grandparents for their grandchildren unless there is evidence of abuse or violence.

Article Contents

What is the social definition of grandparent?

A grandparent is your parent’s parent. This could be the mother or father of a child’s mother or father. Quite often we hear the terms maternal and paternal grandparents. Maternal grandparents are a mother’s parents whereas paternal grandparents are the father’s parents.

Do grandparents have rights in the UK?

It is important to note that grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to their grandchildren if a parent stops them. However, there are certain steps which could be taken by grandparents to maintain contact with their grandchildren.

Grandparents rights commonly forgotten about after a divorce

It is unfortunate that grandparents’ rights are often the first to be forgotten about a divorce despite special bonds shared between them with grandchildren.

Grandparents should not be placed in a position where they are unable to care for their grandchildren following a divorce of the parents.  The Independent reported in January 2018 that just one in five young people spend time with their grandparents. The study also found that grandchildren are agreed their grandparents are both loving and caring.

What are the benefits of grandparents rights?

Grandparents often provide stability, wisdom, safety, protection and fun for their grandchildren. Having a close relationship with their grandparents often prevents children from suffering from depression. The loving relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can provide children with benefits which they may not receive from other relationships.

Grandparents can offer support to grandchildren at many steps of the life. Quite often grandparents can act as role models, support unit, parent and supporter of their grandchildren. Children can often benefit from the experience and routes of their grandparents. 

Grandparents can sometimes provide more emotional and financial support than parents. The government is beginning to agree on the value a relationship with grandparents provides to their grandchildren. Quite interestingly MP’s have requested the government to force law changes to give grandparents legal rights in the UK.

How does divorce and grandparents’ rights affect children?

One of the biggest impacts a divorce can have on children is their ability to see their grandparents will be affected. This can be quite daunting given that grandparents and grandchildren may have shared a very close relationship.

What can be more emotional is that due to the animosity between the parents, they may prevent the grandparents from seeing the children. As grandparents have no access or contact rights, they may be left with no option but to make an application to the court to see their grandchildren.

Children may benefit from the additional support of grandparents during a turbulent time. They may need to speak to someone to release their feelings and emotions. Children should be given the opportunity to seek support from their grandparents and discuss what is happening at home. Unfortunately children may lose their contact and the support unit that grandparents can provide.

What are grandparent’s visitation rights?

It is usually ideal for grandparents to try and arrange their contact with their children by way of an agreement with the parents. In most cases if this can be agreed there will be no need to make an application to court. When access to grandchildren is restricted and no agreement can be reached with the parents, it is important to note that grandparent’s visitation rights are restricted.

Can a parent deny a grandparent visitation?

As there are no automatic rights for a grandparent to their grandchildren, parents can deny a grandparent visitation if there is no court order allowing for contact. However if the matter proceeds to a family court allowing for a grandparent contact order then a parent cannot restrict their grandchild contact.

Get access to your grandchildren where contact has been stopped or restricted following separation?

Divorce or separation is a turbulent time not just for the couple separating but also impacts other relationships. Children often suffer following their parent’s separation. Following separation, one or both parents may stop or restrict grandparents access to their grandchildren. If either parent is not agreeable to allowing contact with grandparent’s then grandparents find themselves in a lonely position. However grandparents are still able to try and obtain access to their grandchildren and they have a few options which may be able to assist them.

How to get grandparents rights without going through a family court or family lawyer

Not all family disputes need to end up in the family court to be resolved. Families can often resolve personal issues between themselves amicably without the need of court interference. Grandparents who have been restricted access to their grandchildren may be able to get their rights without the need of the family court or a family lawyer.

Communication is a tool which is very powerful. Once family disputes arise emotions are running high and people may not be able to set their feelings aside. A simple conversation between grandparents and parents can often resolve issues. If a parent can agree to grandparents contact then there is no need for further legal costs to be incurred.

If parents and grandparents cannot reach an amicable agreement there is always the option of mediation. Mediation and conversation through an independent third party can also help alleviate issues. If you are a grandparent who would like access to your grandchildren without going to court you can contact us today to see how we can help. We can try and assist in reaching an amicable agreement with the parents or assist in mediation.

Can grandparents apply to the family courts for access to grandchildren

Under the Children Act 1989, grandparents can apply to the family court for access to grandchildren. In order to make an application a grandparent must have leave from the court.  Before granting this leave, the family court will look at the relationship between the grandparents and their grandchildren, the frequency of contact, and the significance of involvement in their lives. The court will take account of the connection and blood tie, and this will be an important factor when the court comes to consider whether it is in the child’s best interests to order contact with a grandparent.

Once this has been obtained the grandparents visitation rights can be accessed through a court application for child contact. Many grandmothers also enquire about grandmothers’ rights where their child does not have custody of the children. Again, grandmothers’ rights are limited with regards to child contact. The parents of the grandchildren must either agree to the contact or an application will be needed for leave to apply for child contact for grandmothers’ rights to be exercised.

How long does it take to get grandparents rights

There is no set time it can take to get grandparents rights. Each case varies and depends on individual circumstances. If an agreement can be reached between parents and grandparents, then it takes considerably less time for grandparents to obtain access to their grandchildren.

If however an agreement cannot be reached then an application would need to be made to the family court. They will then decide whether to provide leave to a grandparent to make an application for access to their grandchildren. This can be quite a lengthy process as other bodies such as CAFCASS may also be ordered by the court to assist them in reaching a decision.

There will usually be a number of court hearings before the court makes an order for contact for grandchildren. The court will always consider the child’s circumstances and wellbeing and must only make an order where they consider it better for the child than making no order at all. When granting grandparents with contact for their grandchildren the courts will consider whether grandparents continued contact with the child might have a negative impact on the rest of the family relationships. It is only in extreme circumstances where the court may consider against making a contact order in favour of grandparents.

Once the grandparents have obtained a contact order for their grandchildren the order will outline legally binding rights for access to grandchildren. Once a child arrangements order has been made by the court, a grandparent cannot be denied access to their grandchildren. If following a successful application for contact order for grandchildren one of the parents causes problems and restricts contact, then grandparents are legally entitled to apply to the family court to enforce the contact order

Contact one of our family law advisers today who will individually review your circumstances and will be in a position to provide you with tailored advice to suit your needs.

Getting access to your grandchildren when your child does not have access

The law is beginning to recognise the importance and the role of grandparents in children’s lives. Even if your child does not have access to their children you are still able to apply to get access to see your grandchildren. Ultimately it is up to the family court to make the decision on whether to grant you access rights. This will be dependant on the welfare of the child and whether it is in the child’s best interests to have such contact. Therefore, regardless of whether or not your child has access you can take steps to getting access to your grandchildren.

Parents not letting grandparents see grandchildren

We often hear about parents not letting grandparents see grandchildren. This can happen where one parent does not have access to their child following a separation and this has a knock on effect with the grandparents also not having access.

As mentioned grandparents do not have an automatic right to see their children. Grandparents can attempt to amicably reach a solution with parents and tell them how their grandchildren may be suffering by parents not letting grandparents see grandchildren. If this fails grandparents can attempt mediation in an attempt to formally discuss any issues or concerns a parent has which is leading to them not letting grandparents see grandchildren. If all else fails then as discussed above grandparents can make an application to the court for leave to make an application to establish contact with their grandchildren.

In what circumstances may a parent not let grandparents see their grandchildren?

At times there may be genuine reasons and concerns as to parents not letting grandparents see grandchildren. Such instances usually take place when there is a dispute between a parent and grandparents. This could be where grandparents interfere and intervene too much with their grandchildren and thus not allowing a parent or parents to properly exercise their parental responsibility and rights. Grandparents must remember that their grandchildren are not their direct children and therefore they should ensure they provide, love care and affection without interfering with a parents role. Leading on from this parents may feel their authority is undermined especially when grandparents encourage children to not obey their parents.

Another reason as to why parents may not be letting grandparents see grandchildren could be due to the child being at risk of suffering harm or is suffering harm from grandparents. This is quite often the case where grandparents have issues with alcohol or drug abuse, sexual offences or any criminal history which includes abuse and violence. In such instances parents may be justified in not letting grandparents see grandchildren.

Grandparents should try and avoid dispute and conflict where possible. They should try not to speak ill of parents or other family members either to the grandchildren or in the presence of the grandchildren. Grandparents should also try and follow routines and boundaries set for their grandchildren by their parents. Whether this a bed time routine, their diet or even their play time. Quite often these reasons mentioned are reasons cited for parents not letting grandparents see grandchildren.

Another reason for not letting grandparents see grandchildren is where one parent is prohibited from having contact with a child due to safeguarding concerns then there is a concern that grandparents may discreetly and confidentially provide access to this parent. This is a significant concern especially as this could put the grandchildren at a risk of suffering harm.

If there are serious concerns surrounding grandparents then the courts will also consider whether allowing grandparents having any access to their grandchildren is in the children’s best interests and welfare. As with all children matters the welfare of a child is of paramount concern to the court.

Where issues and concerns are not serious, grandparents and parents may be able to amicably resolve differences and in turn allow grandparents have access to their grandchildren. However where there are serious concerns which give rise to the prospect of placing a child at a risk of suffering harm then this may require involvement and intervention from professionals and the court and may be a justifiable reason for parents not letting grandparents see grandchildren.

What can I do if a parent is not letting grandparents see grandchildren following a court order being in place? 

There may be times when parents are not letting grandparents see grandchildren despite a court order being in place. As with all court orders where an order is breached an application can be made for enforcement of the order. Similarly grandparents can apply to the court for their contact to be re-instated and for enforcement of the child arrangements order in place. The process for this is the same as if it were between both parents. A breach of an order is seen as a serious breach and is also seen as a contempt of court. The punishment for such a breach could include a fine and imprisonment.

However what happens where a parent is not letting grandparents see grandchildren due to a valid reason or concern where there is an existing court order? Quite often grandparents may be having contact with their grandchildren however this might stop despite there being a court order in place. This could be due to an incident which has occurred whilst the child was in the care of the grandparents and the child has suffered harm or is likely to suffer harm. In such a situation parents may believe it is justified for them not letting grandparents see grandchildren and therefore exercising their parental rights. In this situation the courts and or other professionals may require to intervene and investigate the matter before reinstating contact.

If you are a grandparent whose contact has been stopped or restricted then speak to us today to assist you further. We can also assist you if a parent is making serious allegation against you which is impacting your ability to have a meaningful access to your grandchildren.

What is reasonable contact for grandparents? 

As there is no automatic right for grandparents to have contact with their grandchildren, similarly there is no set rules on what is reasonable contact for grandparents. This could depend on a variety of factors such as the age of the grandchildren, the distance they live from the grandparents and how often they have previously remained in contact with the grandparents. However some parents may choose to offer weekly contact to grandparents whereas others may propose bi-weekly or once a month.

Can Grandparents get custody of their grandchildren? 

Grandparents can also get custody of their grandchildren in situations where parents are unable to care for their children. This can be done by grandparents obtaining temporary or permanent custody which is also known as special or legal guardianship. Grandparents also have the option of adopting their grandchildren. This situation usually applies where the parents of a child are unfit to care for their children, parents of a child want grandparents to have custody of their child, a child is suffering from abuse or neglect at home, the parent is suffering from a mental illness or are subject to drug and alcohol abuse.

The courts will always consider the wellbeing of a child when coming to a decision which focuses on a child and in certain scenarios grandparents may be best placed to care for their grandchildren.

Grandparents rights after death of a parent

Many people often query the grandparents rights after death of a parent. It is important to note that grandparents do not inherit their grandchildren. Usually if the children are orphaned then the grandparents are the first place they will end up. However again there is no automatic grandparents rights after death of a parent. If however the parent of a child has made a will in which they include that the grandparents will be the guardians of their children then in such circumstances grandparents rights after death of a parent will be honoured by the courts.

If, however one parent is still alive, then this can cause a complex situation. The surviving parent may not allow grandparents access rights. As explained above in such instances an application can be made to the family court to exercise contact rights.

Grandparents rights to secure a child court order

When grandparents lose their child who, were the parents that, had custody of their grandchildren there are often merits in securing a child court order. If the surviving parent is absent or uninvolved, grandparents are often considered the next logical placement for children.

Do Grandparents have any parental responsibility over their grandchildren?

Following family breakdown grandparents can often care for their grandchildren and fulfil the role of being a parent. Grandparents do not automatically have Parental Responsibility. However grandparents can obtain Parental Responsibility for their grandchildren by a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order.

How to manage divorce and grandparents’ rights?

Divorce and grandparents rights should be managed with care. Undergoing a divorce can be quite sensitive for parents, children and grandparents. Grandparents will want to offer their child emotional and practical support. When managing divorce and grandparents’ rights it is important for grandparents to remain calm.  Grandparents should avoid increasing animosity towards the other parent. Grandparents should try and support with childcare routine where possible but should also respect the space the parents may need and their decisions.

In terms of managing divorce and grandparents’ rights for grandchildren, grandparents should not be critical of either parent, but instead should promote contact with both of them which is the right of the child. Grandparents should respect the confidence of their grandchildren in them especially if they find it easier to talk to them. Grandchildren may need emotional support which should be provided as well as assisting with domestic chores and childcare. Grandparents should avoid giving any advice on the divorce unless asked to do so and should not criticise either parent.

By effectively managing divorce and grandparents rights the grandchildren may benefit from having someone support them whilst their parents are fighting for their divorce.

What are the benefits of getting early legal advice on divorce and grandparents rights?

One of the benefits of getting early legal advice on divorce and grandparents rights is that it could lead to an early agreement. By seeking legal advice early, family advisers may be able to assist grandparents in reaching an agreement with the parents to see their grandchildren.

Early legal advice prevents the matter from escalating and could save time and costs. if the matter can be settled with the assistance of legal advice then grandparents could avoid the need of making an application to the family court which could take time and could be expensive.

Obtaining early legal advice could also mean that grandparents contact with their grandchildren is resolved at the same time as the parent’s child arrangements. This is ideal as grandparents may not have to wait as much as they would have to if they didn’t seek advice early on.

Speak to our grandparents rights specialists today

If you would like more information on grandparents visitation rights and grandparents rights after death of a parent then contact our family lawyers on 0330 094 5880 to discuss your options or let us call you back.

With family lawyers in Newcastle and across the UK including York, Oxford, Northampton and London we are proud have a national reach.