Grandparents Rights: Contact with Grandchildren
Almost 2/3 of grandparents look after their grandchild on a regular basis. Grandparents however have no automatic legal right to a relationship with their grandson or granddaughter.
As a grandparent parental responsibility is not automatic. Parents traditionally have parental responsibility and as a result are able to make the decisions about the day to day care and welfare of a child unless the Court makes an alternative order.
However there are situations where grandparents may need to acquire parental responsibility (PR). These situations can include where there may be Social Services involvement in a child’s life, when PR is required grandparents may need to approach solicitors to ask for advice. Advice may also be needed if grandparents are not being able to spend quality time with their grandchildren.
There are a number of Orders which are available to grandparents applicable in various circumstances:
- Child Arrangement Order
- Special Guardianship Order
- Specific Issue Order
- Prohibited Steps Order
All of these Orders can help to build upon the emotional bonds between grandchildren and grandparents.
What is the process?
The process to obtain an Order is not however straightforward. If relationships have broken down and families cannot reach agreement around grandparents spending time with grandchildren, the first step that we would normally encourage here at Maguire Family Law would be for grandparents to invite parents to mediation to try and reach an amicable agreement.
If this step is unsuccessful, the next step for grandparents is often to make an application to court.
In order for grandparents to make an application to the Court they are required to initially apply for “leave” or “permission”, which means the right to ask the Court to be heard about this issue. For grandparents, this means the payment of an additional court fee and a possible court hearing to establish why they should have permission to see a child.
This permission to apply is intended to act as a filter against interference in a child’s care, comfort and security, although as seen in the recent case G V M (FHDRA Appeal) permission is not required if the child has lived with the grandparent for three years, provided that that period did not end more than three months before the making of the application.
The overriding principle of the court’s decision will always be is the child’s welfare. Grandparents will need to satisfy the welfare checklist, just as parents would. However, there is no presumption by the courts, as there is with parents, that there should be contact between a grandparent and child unless there is a good reason not to allow it.
A judge will use the welfare checklist set out in the Children Act 1989 to make his or her decision. This checklist requires consideration of:
- 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.
The court will consider:
- 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 process can seem very daunting for grandparents who may not be used to dealing with court applications and procedures. It is important for grandparents who are experiencing difficulty in establishing regular contact with grandchildren, or for those grandparents who have not being able to have as much involvement in their grandchildren’s lives as they would wish, to remember that they do have options.
The specialist team at Maguire Family Law are experienced in offering pragmatic, straightforward advice, allowing grandparents to make informed decisions, which help to bring families back together.
We aim to offer advice and support which can help facilitate grandparents playing active roles in their grandchildren’s lives, allowing them to continue to develop strong emotional bonds with their grandchildren.
If you are a grandparent and need advice on your rights to see your grandchildren then please contact our specialist family law team.