What are grandparent’s contact rights with their grandchildren?

A grandparent plays a very important role in a child’s life and it has long been recognised that regular contact with grandparents is beneficial to a child in numerous ways. Often grandparents greatly assist with childcare arrangements which save families a huge amount of expense.

Sadly, when parents separate, grandparents can sometimes lose contact with their grandchildren. When hostility between parents between parents occur if can be difficult and those difficulties can spill over into other relationships, such as with grandparents. In those circumstances, the parent who has the day to day care of the child might refuse to let the child have contact with the grandparents. 

Grandparents often believe that they have legal rights to maintain their relationship with their grandchild but unfortunately this is not the case. In the event that grandparents cannot resolve the arrangements for the child with the parents informally, they may consider the need to make an application to court.

However, before any application to court can be considered, it is first necessary for the parties to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is because in the vast majority of cases the court requires parties to try and settle the dispute through mediation and outside of the court arena.

In the event that mediation is not suitable, grandparents could then consider making an application to court for a Child Arrangements Order in their favour. Child Arrangements Orders were introduced under The Children and Families Act 2014 and replace the previous reference to ‘residence’ and ‘contact’. Child Arrangements Orders instead set out either where the child should live or how often the child will spend time with the applicant and for how long.

Unlike parents, grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order in their favour and first need to seek permission from the court to make the application. To gain permission, the grandparent must establish and prove to the court that they have a meaningful relationship with the child and a connection that should be sustained. The child’s welfare in the court’s paramount consideration. The court has to consider all of the child’s circumstances and have regard to a checklist of matters that includes the child’s wishes and feelings and any risk of harm there is to the child.

If the grandparent is seeking for their grandchild to live with them, they may instead consider making an application for a Special Guardianship Order. A Special Guardianship Order will give a stronger degree of permanence to the child than a Child Arrangements Order and the parents can only make an application to bring the order to an end if the court grants them permission to do so. In most situations, Special Guardians are also entitled to exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility and therefore can make the day to day decisions for the child.  

Della Phillips in based at our Leicester office and has specialised in family law since her qualification and is a member of the Law Society Children Panel. She regularly represents parents, grandparents and children in care proceedings brought by local authorities and also represents parties in private law children disputes. For more information please contact Della Phillips on 0116 2472002 or email della.phillips@smithpartnership.co.uk.