Grandparents' rights to contact with their grandchildren

    Grandparents' rights to contact with their grandchildren

    The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can be a cherished and vital part of family life, offering emotional support, stability, and a sense of heritage. Grandparents often provide childcare support to help reduce the expense of nursery and other formal childcare settings for parents to enable them to continue to work or with other commitments and activities. However, family relationships can sometimes be complicated or breakdown altogether, leading to situations where grandparents may find themselves unable to see their grandchildren. 

    In the UK, grandparents' rights to have contact with their grandchildren are not automatic and are governed by specific legal processes. This means that grandparents can find themselves in a difficult situation where their relationship breaks down with their grandchild’s parent(s).

    Understanding the Legal Framework

    Grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to have contact with their grandchildren. Usually, grandchildren spending time with their grandparents is determined by the parents and takes place on a very informal basis. This lack of inherent rights means that when disputes arise, grandparents often need to navigate the court system to be able to spend time with their grandchildren which can be a very daunting and lengthy process.

    So how do grandparents seek contact?: The Legal Process

    When informal arrangements and negotiations fail, grandparents can apply to the family courts for a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) to secure time with their grandchildren (sometimes people might call this “contact”). The legal process involves two main steps:

    1. Attending Mediation: 

    Before any application to the court is made it is important that informal arrangements, negotiation and mediation (where possible) is undertaken. The courts will only accept applications where mediation has not been attempted in very limited circumstances.

    If mediation is not possible, then an application to the court may be considered. Other forms of dispute resolution might also be considered/be appropriate such as collaborative law or private arbitration.  

    2. Applying for Leave (Permission) of the Court: 

    Because there are no automatic legal rights for grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren, they must first seek leave (permission) from the court to make an application. This step is intended to act as a filter to prevent unnecessary  applications which have no merit and so permission is not always granted. When considering whether to grant leave/permission, the court will consider factors such as:

    • The nature of the proposed application
    • The grandparent's connection/relationship with the child
    • Any potential disruption to the child's life as a result of the application
    • Any risk of harm posed to the child

    3. Applying for a Child Arrangements Order: 

    If leave/permission is granted, you may then apply for a child arrangements order. This is an order which can specify the time the child should spend with you, such as the frequency and duration of visits. This may include stages to re-introduce face to face contact, including letters, cards, video calls and face to face contact. 

    When deciding on such applications, the court's primary consideration is the welfare of the child. The court will assess:

    • The relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild
    • The wishes and feelings of the child, considering their age and understanding
    • The potential benefits of maintaining the grandparent-grandchild relationship
    • Any history of family conflict or issues that might impact the child’s well-being
    • Any potential risk posed to the child if contact were to take place

    The court proceedings for a child arrangements order can be lengthy and may potentially require the involvement of CAFCASS (The Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to explore and understand the wishes and feelings of the children and to speak to you and your family in order to make recommendations to the court about the proposed contact arrangements.

    As a result of proceedings, the court may grant a child arrangements order if it is deemed to be in the child(ren)’s best interests. 

    The Welfare of the Child

    The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration in all family law matters. The court will always prioritise the child's best interests over the desires of the adults involved. This means that even if a grandparent has a strong and loving relationship with their grandchild, the court will only grant contact if it is deemed beneficial for the child and in their best interests.

    Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution

    As discussed above, mediation will be required in most cases before an application can be made to the court. Mediation can provide a less adversarial and more collaborative environment for resolving disputes between the adults. It allows all parties to discuss their concerns and come to an agreement that works for everyone where possible. 

    There are different types of mediation which can be attended, this can include joint sessions with all parties present and individual meetings with the mediator is joint sessions are not possible.

    Legal Aid and Support

    Legal aid for grandparents seeking contact with their grandchildren is limited and typically means-tested and is only available in very limited circumstances. 

    It is likely that any applications made by grandparents will need to be funded privately as a result.


    For more information, please contact one of the family lawyers in our Children Team who would be more than happy to advise you further.


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