Do grandparents have any rights regarding access to their grandchildren?
When a couple separates, or a family endures a bitter dispute, the consequences can have a knock on effect on the whole family. Sadly, it often means that grandparents and grandchildren endure separation through no wish of their own.
Losing access to our treasured grandchildren is a major fear for grandparents of little ones caught up in parental splits and custody battles.
Unfortunately, research published by Families Need Fathers, the Grandparents Association and the Family Matters Institute revealed that 42% of grandparents go on to lose contact with their grandchildren when their parents separate*.
There is plenty of information out there on the subject of maintaining or re-establishing contact with grandchildren, but digesting it all and separating fact from fiction can be complicated.
To simplify things, here is our guide to your rights regarding access to your grandchildren, and what you can do to improve your chances.
Do grandparents have any rights?
Do grandparents have a legal right to see their grandchildren? In short – sadly – no you do not, or not automatically anyway.
In most cases, any contact between children and their grandparents is negotiated between the grandparent and the resident parent directly. In some cases, however, grandparents can apply for the right to see their grandchildren by applying for a Contact Order (see further on for more information on this).
This is an expensive route to take though, so all other viable avenues should be exhausted first.
Seeing grandchildren during divorce or a separation
At such a difficult time in the child’s life, having that emotional support from a grandparent who can offer stability and love, away from the conflict of feuding parents, can be so important.
Be positive when you see your grandchildren. Let the parents see that time spent with you is time for their children to enjoy some precious normality in this difficult time, and that you can play a very helpful part in all of this for everyone, but especially for your grandchildren.
When your child is going through a separation then you may have some strong, potentially negative feelings about the other party. It is very important to remain absolutely neutral in front of your grandchildren, refraining from saying a bad word against either of their parents – however you might feel. Anything you say could upset the child, and could also get back to the parent (who may prevent further contact between you as a result).
If you can lend your positive support now, when the parents need it most, then you may have a far better chance of maintaining that supportive, actively involved role going forward, and it could have a huge difference on the amount of contact you achieve in the years ahead.
Being denied contact with grandchildren?
If you are being refused contact with your grandchild, perhaps because of a nasty ongoing divorce or because you have fallen out with your son or daughter, then there are some ways you can try to persuade them around:
- Firstly, do not be afraid or embarrassed to show them how much you miss your grandchildren and remind them that you are sure they will be missing you, too.
- Reassure them you do not intend to take sides and only wish to maintain contact with your grandchild, whatever may be happening between the parents.
- Explain that the children are innocent in all of this and could be upset or confused by being refused a relationship with you.
- If old enough, suggest your grandchildren are consulted about the contact arrangements in place at the moment (or lack of). They may be eager to see you but have not been given the opportunity to speak up.
- Offer practical support that will enable you to see your grandchildren more often in a way that will help the parents. Offer babysitting duties one evening a month perhaps, or suggest you collect them from school once a week to have their dinner at yours, for example.
Do paternal grandparents miss out?
Generally, children remain with their mother after a separation, which means maternal grandparents are often called upon for assistance with the grandchildren far more than the paternal ones.
In the eyes of the law, paternal grandparents are treated in the same manner as maternal ones though. Although, you should check whether your son has parental responsibility, something he will have is they were married when each child was born, or if his name is on each child’s birth certificate.
If you feel the maternal grandparents are being given the lion’s share of grandparent duties then perhaps write to or call the mother and explain, in a helpful and friendly manner, that you are, too, are eager to help with the grandchildren.
Explain that you can be a real help (babysitting or doing the occasional school run), providing practical support that will enable more regular contact with your grandchildren.
Mediation for access to grandchildren
If you find that informal negotiations and your offering of practical support is not helping the situation, and you are still not being given any contact with your grandchildren, then you can show them how serious you are by offering mediation.
Firstly, both parents will have to agree to attend. During mediation, an impartial person will help you reach an agreement about contact with your grandchildren.
This will give you the opportunity to express your feelings on the matter in a safe and neutral environment, overseen by a professional mediator who will work to keep things calm and from reducing into a dispute.
Court order to see grandchildren
If you feel you have exhausted all avenues, then as a last resort you can make an application to the court for contact. But do be warned, this is an expensive and time-consuming task – and taking your relatives to court is likely to cause a great deal of friction going forward.
First you will need permission from the family courts to apply. Then, under the 1989 Children’s Act, you can apply to secure orders for defined contact.
If you are granted leave you will probably be appointed a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer who will prepare a report on your behalf based on the welfare of the children.
At this point you may find the parents are more likely to accept your request for contact, especially if the report finds that ongoing contact is in the child’s best interests. Otherwise, a full hearing will take place in which you and the parents will need to give evidence.
In this event, you will need to convince the court that maintaining a relationship with your grandchildren will significantly benefit their lives.