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Read more articles in: Blog, Family, Family Law, Stuart Daniel

The legal rights of grandparents in family disputes

The bond between grandparents and their grandchildren can be an important tie that holds families together.

However, during family disputes (especially in the case of divorce or separation), this relationship can become strained and face challenges.

The rights of the grandparents are not automatically the same as those of the parents and so you should know what legal positions you hold regarding acquiring access to your grandchildren and how you can navigate the legal system to seek contact rights if needed.

Understanding the legal rights of grandparents

Under current UK legislation, grandparents do not have inherent legal rights when it comes to their grandchildren.

This means that they do not automatically have the right to demand contact or make decisions on behalf of their grandchildren.

Unless there is a Court Order in place, it is up to the parents to decide who their children see.

However, despite this potential setback, there are ways grandparents can apply for permission to see their grandchildren, especially when amicable agreements cannot be reached within the family.

For example, in situations where neither parent can care for the child, you might be able to step in and apply for guardianship.

This would allow you to make important decisions on behalf of the grandchild and might be considered if both parents are deemed unfit or are unavailable due to circumstances like imprisonment or death.

The process of gaining contact rights

The first step to seeking contact rights with your grandchildren is to attempt to resolve the issue outside of the Court.

Mediation services offer a platform for discussing and reaching an agreement on access arrangements without the need for legal intervention.

This step is not only a legal requirement but also a less confrontational approach, helping to preserve family relationships if possible.

Mediation does not always create a positive outcome so you might have to move to apply for a Court Order.

You can apply for a Court Order, known as a Child Arrangements Order – this is a legal decree which directs how often and under what circumstances a child should spend time with someone.

This can include:

  • In-person visits
  • Telephone calls
  • Online communication

However, before applying directly for a Child Arrangements Order, you must seek the Court’s permission to apply for such an order.

This is a necessary step due to the absence of automatic rights for grandparents, in contrast to the parents.

Once the Court grants permission, then you will be able to proceed to apply for a child arrangements order.

If you have played a significant role in your grandchild’s life or have had a strong pre-existing relationship, the Courts are more likely to consider these factors favourably when determining contact rights.

Such a bond is taken into account when evaluating the potential benefits and harms of re-establishing or maintaining contact.

What does the overall process look like?

Every situation depends on the circumstances of those involved but there are some steps you should take if you wish to keep in contact with your grandchildren:

  1. Mediation
  2. Seeking permission
  3. Application
  4. First hearing
  5. Fact-finding hearing
  6. Further hearings
  7. Decision

Legal challenges and considerations

Despite the availability of legal routes to secure contact rights, the process can be emotionally and financially taxing.

The legal journey requires navigating through complex legal frameworks and potentially lengthy Court proceedings.

It is therefore crucial you seek advice from our legal experts early in the process to better understand your options and the best course of action to take.

If you would like to know more about how you can seek access to your grandchildren following their parents’ divorce or separation, please contact a member of our team today.

Stuart Daniel

Head of Family Department

I qualified as a Solicitor in 2006 and now specialise in divorce, financial settlements, childcare arrangements and Pre Nuptial Agreements. I have many years’ experience as a private family lawyer having worked with two other local firms before returning to Mander Hadley, where I first undertook work experience during my university studies.