It would be unfair to discuss families and not to mention grandparents. So often in today’s world, grandparents play a considerable role in children’s lives: grandparents are retiring earlier, whilst working parents are forced through financial necessity to return to work after children are born or when they go to nursery/school. Needless to say, most of us are far happier to rely on Grandma and Grandpa where possible to help look after the children in these circumstances. Consequently some children may be seeing their grandparents four or five times a week. When things go wrong between the parents what rights does the grandparent have?

Sadly, when parents separate, or there are family disagreements, the children can sometimes become pawns in the game. For example, when they stop being taken to visit grandparents, or when grandparents are told that they cannot any longer see their grandchildren, or when one parent is denied contact by the other so that the children are not taken on contact visits to visit the grandparents either. Couples may not always stop to consider the children’s need to maintain and build their relationships with their grandparents.

Similarly, when children are taken into care by the Local Authority, they may well see less of their grandparents and again the loosening of these ties can be painful.

8.1 What can Grandparents do?

Grandparents’ Rights –

The bad news – there is no such thing as a specific set of “grandparents’ rights”.

Happily, the child does have the right to see not only its parents, but also those people who have played a significant role in his/her life, such as grandparents.

It is possible for matters to be resolved without going to Court. There are:

(i) conciliation Services offered by such organization as FAME, and
(ii) grandparents can attend Mediation with the parent/s

Details of conciliation services and mediation services in your area are available from your Solicitor, local Court or local CAB.

8.2 It is possible for grandparents to apply to the Court for:

(i) a Contact Order - (formerly an "Access Order"), this will confirm whether you can see your grandchild, and in some cases the day, time, and place, or
(ii) a Residence Order - (formerly a "Custody Order") which will say with whom the child is to live. If you are granted a Residence Order you will share Parental Responsibility with the child’s mother (and perhaps the father) while the Order is in force. Parental Responsibility entitles you to access information about a child and make decisions for them.

You have no automatic right to make the application for contact or residence, unless the children have been living with you for a set time period ( your Solicitor can tell you about this). You will need to apply for the Court’s permission to make the application. This Application is known as an Application for “Leave”. If you are granted Leave then your Application proceeds as in the Summary of Procedure for Applications for contact and residence.

You may qualify for Public Funding (formerly Legal Aid). You should see your Solicitor to see if you qualify.

8.3 What is your position if your Grandchildren live with you?

It is not unusual, for various reasons, for grandchildren to live with their grandparents. You may have the Child Benefit paid to you, and there may be no formal Court Order. Did you know that you have no legal right to make decisions for the child unless you have a Residence Order? Only a person with Parental Responsibility can make decisions about a child and grandparents will only have Parental Responsibility if they also have a Residence Order in their favour for that child. You may need to consult a Solicitor for advice as to how to obtain a Residence Order in your favour.