Grandparents: What legal rights do I have?

Most grandparents look after their grandchildren on a regular basis, however, under the current law, grandparents have no automatic legal right to a relationship with their grandchildren.  

This is due to the fact that grandparents do not have any automatic parental responsibility (PR) for their grandchildren. Usually, it is the parents who have PR and so are the ones to make decisions about the day-to-day care and welfare of the child, unless an alternative order has been made by the Court.  

There are some situations in which grandparents may acquire PR. For example, where Social Services are involved in a child’s life, grandparents may approach solicitors to obtain advice where PR is required. Further, advice may be necessary if the grandparents are being prevented from spending good quality time with their grandchildren.  


What Orders are available?  

  • Child Arrangement Order 
  • Special Guardianship Order 
  • Specific Issue Order 
  • Prohibited Steps Order 
  • Adoption  

These are a number of Court orders which may be available to grandparents, dependent upon the circumstances. All of the above Orders are able to help build and promote the emotional bond and relationship between grandchildren and grandparents.  


Process of obtaining an Order?  

In circumstances whereby family relationships have broken down and families are unable to reach an agreement around grandparents spending time with their grandchildren, mediation would often be encouraged. This would give the grandparents and parents the opportunity to amicably reach an agreement about contact with the help of a mediator.  

However, the option of mediation is sometimes unrealistic or simply is not successful in resolving the issue. In this instance, the next option for grandparents would be to make an application to the Court.  

In order for grandparents to make an application to the Court, they will need to apply for ‘leave’ of the Court. This simply means they need to ask the Court for permission to be heard about the particular issue. 

Permission of the Court is not required if the child has lived with the grandparents for three years, provided that this period did not end more than three months before making the application.  


Welfare of the Child: 

When making a decision, the Court will always prioritise the welfare of the child.  

In the same way parents would need to, grandparents are required to satisfy the welfare checklist. However, there is no presumption by the Courts that grandparents should have contact with a child unless there is good reason not to allow it.  

The welfare checklist requires the Court to consider: 

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child 
  • The child’s physical, emotion and educational needs 
  • The likely effect on the child if circumstances change as a result of the Court’s decision 
  • The child’s age, sex, background, and any other characteristics which would 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 any other person the Court may find relative) in meeting the child’s needs 
  • The powers available to the Court in the given proceedings 

What will the Court consider?  

The Court will take into account:  

  • The nature of the proposed application 
  • Any risk of disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that they would be harmed by it 
  • When 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 also look at the grandparents’ relationship with the child, the nature of the application, whether contact with the grandparents would be harmful to the child in any way, and if continuing contact with the grandparents would negatively impact the rest of the family. 

Grandparents can find the Court process a very daunting one, however, it is important that they remember that they do have options when it comes to seeking regular contact with their grandchildren or having more involvement in their grandchildren’s lives.  

If you are a grandparent seeking advice on your rights to see your grandchildren, please do not hesitate to contact our family department who will be more than happy to advise you as necessary. 

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