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Do grandparents have rights?

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Family Law on Friday, June 28th, 2024

In many families, grandparents play a huge role in their grandchildren’s lives, their upbringing and their welfare – from providing childcare to supporting them financially through their education. As a society we are increasingly recognising the unique bond between grandparents and grandchildren, giving rise to thorny questions around legal rights.

What are grandparents’ legal rights with regards to their grandchildren?

Often, we find that the grandparents we represent are not aware of their legal rights, especially where their grandchildren’s parents are separating or engaged in a dispute over child arrangements.

Some are therefore shocked to find out that grandparents do not have an automatic right to maintain contact with their grandchildren – only those with parental responsibility have this right. Parental responsibility is a legal responsibility afforded to all mothers and most fathers, which renders them responsible for their child’s health, education and welfare.

This can be hugely distressing for grandparents where, for example, their former son- or daughter-in-law gains custody and denies them access.

Legal avenues for grandparents

There are some legal avenues available to grandparents seeking contact with their grandchildren.  For example, you can seek to negotiate with your grandchild(ren)’s parents through a solicitor, mediation or court proceedings if necessary.

There are two main kinds of legal order you can apply for if you are looking to maintain contact with or take custody of your grandchildren.

  1. Special Guardianship Order – this gives you parental responsibility for a child until the age of 18, including custody. You will need to consult the child’s parents on certain key decisions, however.
  2. Child Arrangements Order – this type of order determines where a child will live and who they can spend time with.

If you want to take your case to court, you’ll first need to obtain permission from the court to apply for a Special Guardianship Order or a Child Arrangements Order. However, a court will usually expect you to go through mediation or some other form of alternative dispute resolution first.

When you are applying for contact or custody, remember that a court will always put the best interests of your grandchildren at the forefront of their eventual decision. A judge will, however, usually be inclined to support contact between grandparents and grandchildren if they deem it beneficial for the children’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Factors the court will consider

When seeking the legal right to contact your grandchildren, there are a number of factors the court will consider when coming to their decision, including:

  • The relationship between the grandparent(s) and grandchild(ren)
  • The nature and extent of previous contact
  • The potential impact of the contact on the child(ren)
  • The wishes and feelings of the child(ren) (if they are old enough to express them).

If the child(ren)’s parents object to you contacting them, you must demonstrate that the contact is beneficial for them.

Get in touch for quality legal advice

Our Family Law team is here to support grandparents seeking contact with or custody of their grandchildren. Please do get in touch with us on 0330 221 8855 or email enquiries@attwaters.co.uk for professional advice and guidance.

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