Do Grandparents have rights too?

by Donna Gibbons

It is obvious to all that the breakdown of a relationship leads to heartache for the parents and the children concerned.  Grandparents can often feel overlooked in the whole process, despite it affecting their contact with their grandchildren.  They often sit back, not wanting to upset an already fragile situation.

So what is the position for grandparents when the parents’ relationship has broken down and they want to see their grandchildren?

Legal position

The quick answer is that grandparents do not have an automatic right either to see their grandchildren or to apply to the court for an order allowing them to see their grandchildren.  However, they should not be dismayed.  This is because the law is more focused on the rights of the child than the rights of the adults.  Generally, the more involved the grandparents have been in the child’s life, the more likely it is that the court will consider that there is a benefit to the child in continuing that relationship.

The best advice for a grandparent, and indeed for any parent or adult involved in a child’s life, is to remain focused on the needs of the child.  The court’s paramount consideration is the child’s welfare and contact is more likely to be allowed if it is in the child’s best interests.  If the grandparent can demonstrate that they have a strong relationship with their grandchild, and that they have not involved themselves in any dispute between the parents, then there is a much better chance that an order will be made granting them contact.

Practical steps to take

Try to make arrangements directly with the parents.  The fact that the parents have separated does not mean that either of them lose their right to make decisions concerning their child.  Both parents should be approached to seek their views on contact continuing

Mediation is always worth considering; it is not just for parents.  There are many excellent mediators available who would assist grandparents and parents to reach an agreement for the benefit of the child.

A court application for a Child Arrangements Order should be a last resort.  Grandparents will, unless certain exemptions apply, need to apply for permission (“leave”) in the first instance.  The court will consider:

  • the nature of the proposed application.  What is the grandparent seeking and why?
  • the connection with the child.  It needs to be clear that the relationship is that of a grandparent, but it is important to set out in detail the extent of the relationship, such as how often they used to see the child
  • any risk there might be of the application disrupting the child’s life so that the child would be harmed by it.  It is unlikely that the application would disrupt the child’s life except in rare circumstances

The above checklist is used by the court to decide if permission should be granted.  The Court will take into account a number of matters when making this decision with the welfare of the child being the paramount consideration.

For further advice and assistance contact Palmers Solicitors on 01375 484 451.