Grandparents' Rights

Grandparents’ rights to contact with grandchildren

If you are a grandparent, what are your rights?  Pearson Solicitors Childcare team are often contacted by grandparents who need advice, following a divorce or separation, in relation to their grandchildren.   This can be because they are denied contact, the grandchild is living with them or children’s services are involved in the family.

Does a grandparent have a right to contact?

There is unfortunately no automatic right to contact with your grandchild.  However, the Court does recognise that grandparents play an important part in the lives of children and it would be rare that a court would refuse any contact between you and your grandchild.

Our specialist Childcare Law solicitor can act on your behalf to try and reinstate regular contact with your grandchild. Whether this is through negotiation or if necessary by applying through the Courts.

Applying for a Court Order

Sometimes it is necessary to go to the Court for contact with grandchildren, but not always.  Before applying to the Court, alternatives to help try and improve the situation and re-establish contact would be discussed, such as writing to the parent who has custody of the child with a contact proposal, or referring your case to mediation.

If contact cannot be agreed then an application to the Court would be considered.  You would have to apply for “leave” (permission) to proceed with your application, as the Court has to decide if your application would be harmful to your grandchild.  Provided it is not, leave should be granted so that the Court can consider what is in your grandchild’s best interests.

It is important that you have legal advice at the start of any proceedings, to help you correctly apply to the Court and set out your case why contact is in the best interests of your grandchild and should be granted.

Residence – when a child lives with the grandparent

Sometimes a child will live with their grandparent (s).  If this happens and it is going to be a permanent situation, you should consider an application to the Court to secure the placement.  You will not have any parental rights for your grandchild unless an order is made, so you cannot make decisions as their carer.  Also, having an order will provide you with the security of knowing that your grandchild will be staying with you.

There are two types of orders to consider; a Residence Order or a Special Guardianship Order.

A Residence Order says that the child “resides” with you and you will have parental responsibility for the child for the duration of the order.  You would share this parental responsibility with the child’s parents.

A Special Guardianship Order gives you enhanced parental responsibility, which is sometimes necessary if you will need to exercise your parental responsibility over and above the parents, for example, if they have drug or alcohol problems which mean that they cannot work with you to make decisions for your grandchild.  Also, with this type of order, the local authority have to consider if you require support, practical and financial. 

Like with a contact application, sometimes the leave of the Court is needed.  If your grandchild has lived with you for three years within the last five years then leave will not be required.

Our specialist Childcare Law solicitor can discuss the two options with you at the initial stages and decide which is appropriate for you and then assist you in making the application to the Court.

When Children’s Services are involved

If the Local Authority is involved with your grandchild and family it may unfortunately be the case that your grandchild is removed from their parents’ care.  If the Local Authority has been involved for some time, in the Child in Need process or Child Protection arena, then you may be involved already and may have been assessed as an alternative care.  In that case, if your grandchild cannot return home and is going to remain with you, you may need advice on the type of order to secure that placement, as discussed above.

Sometimes there has not been enough time to carry out an assessment or the child is removed urgently.  If that is the case and there are court proceedings, the Local Authority is under a duty to consider if the child could live with a family member.   An initial assessment must be carried out, and if positive a full assessment will then be carried out.  If negative, we can provide advice on how to challenge that assessment, and discuss whether an independent assessment, from a social worker not connected to the local authority, is appropriate.    

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