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The Ultimate Guide to Grandparent Rights in the UK

Grandparent Access Rights in the UK 2020

Grandparents can find themselves ostracised and left very much on the outside of the family, when their children get a divorce or their relationship falls apart and there are grandchildren involved. When this happens, not many grandparents know their options. Take a look at the ultimate guide to grandparent rights below to answer all your questions on what you can do to maintain contact with your grandchildren.

Grandparent with granddaughter

It’s heart-breaking to be separated from your grandchildren, and you want to do whatever you can to avoid that. However, as a grandparent, you may ask “do I have any rights to see my grandchildren?” Simply put – yes, if the court agree with you. But it is the rights of the children to have a loving and fulfilling relationship with their grandparents that the law is more concerned with.

Even if the parents are unable to agree their child arrangements, the grandparents can and should agree their own arrangements, with both sides of the family, to see their grandchildren . 

What Rights Do I Have as a Grandparent?

You don’t have an automatic right to see your grandchildren. However, you have the right to ask the family court for permission if you cannot agree arrangements with the parents. If they grant you permission, and it is unlikely to be reasonably refused,  you will be able to apply to court under the Grandparent Access UKChildren Act (1989). Once you have made that initial application, the court will set a date for a hearing and invite everyone with parental responsibility to attend. The court will carefully consider your existing connection to the children and their relationship to you. Based on that, they will make a decision on how and when to arrange for the children to maintain a relationship with their grandparents.

If you’ve never been in contact with your grandchildren or have only seen them infrequently, the court will be less likely to make an immediate order. A stepping stone arrangement may be put in place to integrate you into their lives.

If you have a strong relationship with your grandchildren, and you have details of that relationship, it is more likely the court will make an order. When you apply, you must explain the role you’ve played in the lives of your grandchildren up until you stopped seeing each other.

What Should I Do to Continue Contacting My Grandchildren?

  1. Try to maintain contact. The first thing you should do is try and maintain contact with your grandchildren if possible. Maintain communication with the parents and explain you’re there for both of them. Your purpose is not to choose sides, but to provide support for both of them during this difficult time. If having this conversation face to face is difficult, try writing an email or a letter.

Make sure you explain how much you miss your grandchildren (and how much they must miss you), say you’re willing to provide support, both emotional and practical, explain why you don’t want to stop being a part of the family, and suggest they ask your grandchildren how they feel about maintaining contact with you. Just keep in mind this may not be successful, depending on the level of conflict, so you may not receive a positive response.

  1. Family Mediation. If the first approach fails, the you should give family mediation a try. A mediator will be able to help both parties reach a happy agreement. To do this, you need to schedule a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). You will discuss your case with the mediator, they’ll take notes, explain the mediation process, and tell you about the different types of mediation.

Once it’s decided that mediation is a suitable path, the mediator will invite the parent(s) to mediation in writing. If they accept, they also need to attend a MIAM. After you have both completed a MIAM, the mediator will put a plan together for your joint mediation session. This can be done online via video or face to face, in person.

If it turns out that mediation is not suitable or proceeding, the mediator will provide a mediation certificate so you can apply to court for a child arrangements order.

  1. Family court. This is the last option, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can do to ensure your ongoing relationship with your grandchildren.

To get this process started, you need to get court permission with a C100 application and it would be worthwhile to gather evidence of your current or previous relationship with your grandchildren.

What Can I Do Right Now to Maintain Contact?

Right now, you can maintain indirect contact as much as possible. If you tried to maintain face to face contact but were unable, talk to the parents about what you want to do. However, maintaining indirect contact will depend on the age of your grandchildren. If they’re old enough to use mobile devices or computers, you can easily text and video call them regularly.

If that’s not an option, write them a letter so they know you’re still there and you still care about them. The letter should be neutral and focused on the child, not on the conflict, so simply talk to them as always. Ask them about school, their friends and hobbies, etc. You can include pictures of yourself doing something as well or small presents. Also, make copies of the letters you send.

What Can I Do If My Son Isn’t on My Grandchild’s Birth Certificate?

If this is the case for you, it can be very difficult to deal with and you will need to seek legal advice to understand your options. Your son only has parental responsibility if he and his partner were married at the time your grandchildren were born, or if his name is on the birth certificate. Your son can apply to the court for parental responsibility at any point, which would not be reasonably denied unless it was proven he was a risk to the child’s safety.

Grandfather with grandchild access rights

How Do I Apply to Court for Contact as a Grandparent?

Going to family court is always the last option because it can be an expensive process and it’s both mentally and emotionally draining. You could easily spend £2,000-£5,000 in solicitors or barristers in preparation for your court hearing. Not to mention hearings will also incur expenses.

However, if this is your only option, make sure you ask for fixed fees for specific stages of the process when you talk to legal professionals. This way, you can manage your finances a lot better. You can also represent yourself and it’s becoming more common to do. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help during the family court process. Organization such as Support Through Court, Citizens Advice, or Child Law Advice can help.

Do I Have an Automatic Right to Apply as a Grandparent?

No, you don’t have an automatic right to your grandchildren. However, family court does recognise how important the role of a grandparent can be in the lives of children. As long as you have a relationship with them and there’s no history of abuse, violence, or neglect, the court will grant you permission. Here’s how it all works:

  1. Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM)

If you’re going to apply to court, you need to consider mediation first with a family mediator. If it’s unsuccessful, the mediator will issue a mediation certificate so you can make your court application. Such a  MIAM costs £115 with Mediate UK if you wish to try mediation or £99 if you believe mediation is not suitable and wish to go direct to court.

  1. C100 Application

You can find the form for the C100 application online or download it here. There is a full guide on how to complete the form here.  In this form, you must seek leave of the court to apply. Keep in mind that the children are always at the centre of this process, so focus on why your grandchildren should be in contact with you, not the other way around. Answer the question: What do the children gain from being in contact with you? The application has a fee of £215 and you must pay it to the court. If you have a low income or are on benefits, you could get help to pay the fee.

  1. Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS)

Once you apply, family court will consider whether you can be in contact with your grandchildren and if so, what kind of contact would be most beneficial for them. There’s indirect contact (letters, phone calls, video calls, etc.) and direct contact (face to face meetings).

The court will appoint a CAFCASS Welfare Officer, who will talk to all parties involved. The officer will investigate all the issues that concern the welfare of the children involved. Then, they will send a report to the court so they can make a decision. The concerned parties will get a copy of the CAFCASS report. If the report strongly recommends that contact should be allowed, you can ask the parents to let you see your grandchildren. If not, the next step is a court hearing.

  1. Court Hearing

Family court is nothing like criminal court, so don’t be worried about your court hearing. They all just want to help families. This means the environment is a lot more supportive because the process is not about finding if someone’s innocent or guilty. Everyone at court recognises that the child is at the center of all this, making things very different than what you may have in mind.

During the court hearing, you, the applicant, and the parents of the children, the respondent, will provide evidence. You must focus on explaining how you’ve been a part of your grandchildren’s lives and how they will be negatively impacted by not having you around.

When it comes to making a decision, the court will take into consideration the CAFCASS report. If it’s in the best interest if the children, the court will issue an order so you can remain in contact and it will outline what kind of contact you’ll be able to enjoy from now on.

What If Parents Don’t Acknowledge the Court Order?

This can happen and it’s extremely frustrating when it does. If the parents ignore the court order, you can go back to court and explain how the parents have breached the order. Then, family court will enforce the order and potentially punish the parents for disregarding the court order in the first place.

Frequently Asked Questions About Grandparent Access Rights

Do I have an automatic legal grandparent rights to stay in contact with my grandchildren?

No, you don’t, which is why you need to ask the family court for permission if all else fails.

What should I do if I can’t see my grandchildren?

The first thing you need to do is talk to the parents to try and solve this informally. If not, you can attempt family mediation. If that fails, you may apply to the family court.

What is the legal process like for grandparents rights?

You have to schedule a MIAM first and if that fails, or is deemed unsuitable, you can apply to the court. After that, you’ll have a hearing at family court and they will ultimately make a decision.

Do I need a solicitor for my court application?

 A solicitor is not required, so you can go to court by yourself. But you can ask for support to many different organisations or consider a Mackenzie Friend.

What type of Order can I apply for?

The type of court order you apply for will very much depend on the specific situation. It is always advisable to seek legal advice on the best way order for your grandchildren. There are a number of different legal orders including:

  • Special Guardianship Order – the court will appoint you as a the ‘Special Guardian’ of your grandchild until they turn 18.
  • Child Arrangement Order – the court will decide where and when the children have contact with you.
  • Kinship foster care – when you become an official foster carer for a child.
  • Adoption – this will break the link between your grandchild and their birth parents. You will legally become your grandchild’s parent.

Case Study – Grandparent Rights Through Mediation

Richard and Florence had enjoyed a loving and caring relationship with their three grandchildren, aged 12, 8 and 5.  When their son and step-daughter, Emma got divorced, they helped their son financially with his legal fees and the divorce was a messy and contested one. Emma was angry at Richard and Florence as they had funded the legal fees for the divorce and felt by doing so they were partly to blame for the marriage to end. They had not seen their grandchildren for 7 months – the longest they had ever gone without seeing them.

Richard and Florence previously had a good relationship with the other set of grand-parents but since the divorce they and Emma had not been in touch and had declined all attempts at communication. Their son was having difficulty with the parenting arrangements himself. It was all a bit of a messGrandparent and Family happy after mediation

Richard and Florence attended a MIAM together with Mediate UK. The mediator then wrote to Emma inviting her to mediation. Emma agreed as she did not want to look bad if it went to court, but said she was not prepared to allow the children to see their grandparents unsupervised as she was worried they would say unkind things about her to the children, which would be detrimental to their wellbeing

Emma held her MIAM and then the mediator invited them all in for a face to face meeting. With the help of the mediator and using our progressive mediation process, they each had a chance to express their concerns and their hopes for the future. They quickly agreed a stepping-stone plan to re-integrate Richard and Florence into the grandchildrens’ lives. Within a month of their MIAM, Richard and Florence were helping with the childcare for the grandchildren, which was of benefit to Emma, themselves and the grandchildren – and the family has started to rebuild bridges.


Conclusion

It’s sad that many grandparents all over England and Wales have to deal with being away from their grandchildren due to divorce or separation or when they have fallen out with their own children.

Many of them go straight to a family lawyer, but their first stop, if they are unable to resolve it between
themselves, should be a family mediator. UK grandparent access rights allow you to maintain contact
with your children. Though these rights are not automatic, you can go to a family mediator to try and smooth things over and find a solution.

If that fails, family court is your next step. Though it will take longer, if you can prove your relationship to your grandchildren is beneficial to them, an order is likely to be given allowing you to continue your loving relationship with your grandchildren.


Mediate UK are the top-rated family mediation service in England and Wales.

We help 90% of our clients reach an agreement on the way forward.

Call us on 0330 999 0959 or email admin@mediateuk.co.uk to find out more about how we can help with your specific situation. 

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