Grandparents often play an invaluable role in their grandchildren’s lives. However, when there is a breakdown in the relationship between the parents this can affect the subsequent time a grandparent sees the grandchildren. This can be extremely upsetting for both the grandparents and children involved.
But do grandparents have a right to see their grandchildren? Read on to learn about the legal position in the UK.
What can I do if I am not allowed to see my grandchildren?
Unfortunately, grandparents do not have a legal right to have contact with their grandchildren. In addition, grandparents are not automatically entitled to apply to the Court for a child arrangements order (these orders regulate with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with).
If a resolution cannot be reached directly between parties then prior to instigating any Court proceedings you must first attempt mediation and attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to see whether the matter is suitable to be resolved this way rather than through the Court process. However, there are some exemptions to having to attend a MIAM and we can advise you further about this should an exemption apply.
Making an application to the Court
In most cases grandparents will need to make an application for permission to apply for a child arrangements order. There are exceptions to this, but these are limited, and we can advise you about this if necessary. The purpose of having to apply acts as a filter against interference in a child’s care, comfort, and security.
When the court considers an application for permission it must take account the nature of the proposed application; the grandparents connection with the child; any risk there might be of that proposed application disrupting the child's life; and where the child is being looked after by a local authority, what the authority's plans for the child's future are, and the wishes and feelings of the child's parents.
The Court will decide whether to grant permission to the grandparents allowing them to apply for a child arrangements order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989.
Child Arrangements Order
A child arrangements order is an order that regulates with whom the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact and when the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.
Contact simply means the time that a child spends with an adult. Contact can be direct contact between the child and the person named in the order; overnight staying contact; supervised contact; and indirect contact through letters or cards.
In rare circumstances, where the best interests of the child dictate, the court can order that there is no contact.
Grandparents can also apply for other orders such as a special guardianship order, a specific issue order, a prohibited steps order or an adoption order and we can discuss these matters with you should you need any advice regarding any of these.
How does the Court decide?
The first concern of the court when considering an application for contact is the child’s welfare. The Children Act 1989 provides a list of considerations for the judge who has to decide the case, which help guide them in making a decision. These are:
- the wishes and feelings of the child concerned
- the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs
- the likely effect on the child if circumstances changed because of the court’s decision
- the child’s age, sex, background, and any other characteristics that will be relevant to the court’s decision
- any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
- the capability of the child’s parents (or other relevant people) in meeting the child’s needs
- the powers available to the court
Some of these considerations will be more relevant than others depending on the circumstances of the case.
The court must also be satisfied that making an order is better for the child than not making an order at all.
In recent years MPs have called for an amendment to the Children Act, which would include a child's right to have a close relationship with members of their extended family and this has been considered however, the decision was made to maintain the status quo at this time.
If you need advice regarding contact with your grandchildren, then contact our expert family law team for a complimentary initial consultation with one of our legal experts. Simply call 0800 999 4437 or email email@example.com today and a member of our team will be happy to assist.