Grandparents – what are their rights to spend time with their grandchildren?

We are often asked what rights Grandparents have to spend time with their Grandchildren.

A breakdown in the adult relationships can result, intended or otherwise, in the time children spend with their Grandparents being curtailed or stopped altogether either by circumstance or because a person with parental responsibility objects to the children spending time with a Grandparent. This may be to ‘get back’ at their ex-spouse or partner, a perception of people ‘taking sides’ or because the wider family become involved in disputes. Such decisions are often made quickly and in the heat of the moment but can have lasting consequences if the temperature isn’t diffused quickly.

Legally, Grandparents have no automatic rights in relation to their Grandchildren under Children Act 1989. They do not have parental responsibility. However, as a ‘relative’ there are circumstances in which an application can be made.

Ideally, if at all possible, a way through the difficulties should be sought to try and agree arrangements within the family. There are also several options for resolving such disputes outside of a court and we will always explore out-of-court options with you first and foremost. Those options can include mediation, whereby a neutral third party will facilitate discussions to try and help you reach an agreement everyone can work within without adjudication. 

In the event that no agreement can be reached directly or via methods of dispute resolution outside of a court process then an application will need to be made. However, as Grandparents do not have parental responsibility, the first step is to obtain permission from the court to bring a substantive application.

Generally speaking, it would be unusual for a court to refuse an application for permission from Grandparents. The court will assess the application by looking at

⁃ the relationship between the children and their grandparent/s
⁃ the nature of the application
⁃ whether the application would disrupt the child to the extent that s/he would be harmed by it
⁃ if the child is a ‘looked after child (a) the Local Authorities’ future plans for the child and (b) the wishes and feelings of the parent

If the application for permission is successful, the court will then consider whether a child arrangements order should be made for direct or indirect contact, the parameters of the contact, including frequency and duration. If one or both parents object there would need to be evidence from all sides. In all such applications, the child’s welfare remains the court’s paramount consideration, the court will apply the welfare checklist which will include, depending on the ages and understanding of the children concerned, their ascertainable wishes and feelings.

These issues – whether acting for Grandparents in seeking contact or for parents opposing such contact taking place – are very delicate applications. They are fraught with emotion and require a sensitive approach to help understand the relationship dynamics within the family and get to the bottom of the issues putting a hurdle in the way of resolution.

We can guide you through the options and processes keeping the needs of the children at the forefront.

If the issues in this blog are affecting you or someone you know, come and talk to us.  We are here to help.  You can contact us here.

By Emma


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