With 1 in 4 working families relying on grandparents to help with childcare, there’s no doubt that grandparents play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren. But when family life breaks down, grandparents can be left confused, marginalised, and missing this contact.
At the heart of any dispute should be the children’s welfare and best interests. So, while grandparents don’t automatically have the right to see or care for their grandchildren, there are processes in place to help in difficult circumstances and achieve the best outcome.
Here we’ll cover your options to maintain a fulfilling relationship with your grandchildren if family life has taken an unexpected turn, such as divorce, separation, or incarceration.
What are their rights?
In the UK, grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to see their grandchildren if the parents prevent them from doing so. But family law processes are in place, which means you have the right to seek permission from the court to contact them, and it will be up to the court to decide on what is in the children’s best interests.
It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between “parental responsibility” and “grandparent rights”. Mothers and fathers have parental responsibility for their children, which means they are required to provide care in the form of a home, medical decisions and education.
By contrast, grandparents do not have parental responsibilities for their grandchildren, which means that they don’t automatically have the right to see them.
Steps that can be taken
Despite the lack of legal grandparent rights, there are processes in place to help secure contact if it’s in their best interest.
Informal agreement with both parents
The first step should be to try and make an informal agreement with both parents through a face-to-face conversation, a letter, or email. This is the most inexpensive and least intrusive way forward.
Through open and neutral dialogue with your grandchildren’s parents, your aim should be to help them to understand the value of your presence in the children’s lives, with a focus on the benefit.
If you’re unable to reach an informal agreement with your grandchildren’s parents, your next step will be to propose mediation sessions. To get started, you’ll need to schedule a “Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting” (MIAM) with an organisation that’s registered with the Family Mediation Council.
The MIAM will determine whether mediation is the right course of action for your family, and the outcome will depend on your family’s unique circumstances. A mediator will attend and explain to you the process and different types available. A MIAM usually costs £100-£160 to attend.
If the outcome of the MIAM is that mediation sessions should proceed, then your grandchildren’s parents will be invited to attend sessions. However, they will need to attend their own MIAM before they can begin.
Mediation seeks to find compromises that will suit everyone involved – the children, the parents, and you, as the grandparent. The sessions usually take place in person or online via video calls and will cover arrangements for visitation and care, and ultimately, what’s right for the children. If it goes well, you should come out having secured the appropriate outcome.
However, sometimes the MIAM will determine that mediation is not the right course of action or may not result in an agreement between all parties. If that’s the case, the mediator will issue you with a certificate, costing around £60. You can use the mediation certificate to apply for a court hearing if you wish.
To initiate court proceedings, you’ll need to apply for a court order via a C2 to request permission and a C100 application form for a Child Arrangements Order. The latter form is your opportunity to make a case for being involved in your grandchildren’s lives.
When completing the form, it’s important to focus on what’s best for your grandchildren. You’ll need to explain what your role adds to their lives and how your presence benefits their livelihood. The Court fee for filing the application is £232.00.
Upon receipt of the application, the court will determine whether you will be granted permission to proceed with your application and then the court will formally appoint a Children & Family Court Advisory & Support Service (CAFCASS) welfare officer to your family. It’s the welfare officer’s responsibility to assess your family’s situation and advise the court of the best course of action.
At this stage, the court will decide based on the welfare officer’s report and one of three things can happen:
- You are granted indirect contact, so you may contact your grandchildren via e-mails, phone calls, or video calls. However, you won’t be able to see them face-to-face;
- You are granted direct contact, which will allow you to physically see your grandchildren; or
- The court may not grant contact.
If you’ve not been granted contact rights, then you may decide to proceed to a formal court hearing.
Applying for a court hearing
To apply for a court hearing, you must have already attended a MIAM, unless you’re exempt (such as when domestic violence is involved). You’ll also need to have filled in a C2 and C100 application form and sent it to your nearest family court. The mediator who attended your mediation meeting will need to sign the court order to confirm your attendance. Finally, you’ll need to pay a court fee of £232.
At the court hearing, you’ll have the opportunity to present your case, supported with evidence, to demonstrate how your presence is important in your grandchildren’s lives and how it’s beneficial to them.
Your grandchildren’s parents will also have an opportunity to present their own evidence and make a case. When coming to a verdict, the court will consider your evidence, the parents’ evidence, and the report from the welfare officer. Ultimately, the court will be interested in reaching the best possible outcome for the children involved in the case.
Applying for a court order should be the option of last resort, as it’s a lengthy process that can be mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.
What orders can the court give?
Following the court hearing, they will make a decision on your grandchildren’s care, which can include:
- Where they live;
- Who they spend time with; and
- How and when contact can be made.
The outcome will be a court order that protects your rights to care for or see your grandchildren. There are various types that may be issued.
Special Guardianship Order
A special guardianship order will appoint you as your grandchildren’s legal or “special” guardian. This court order applies until your grandchildren turn 18 years old.
Kinship Foster Care
The court may make you an official foster carer, which is also known as a kinship foster carer. Under this type of court order, you’ll have certain care and guardianship rights, but it’s not the same as a full adoption so you won’t have full parental responsibility.
Child Arrangement Order
A child arrangement order will specify your visitation rights. It will tell you when and where you can meet your grandchildren, and how often you’re allowed to spend time with them.
While it’s a relatively rare occurrence, in some situations, grandparents may be granted full adoption of their grandchildren. Full adoption breaks the connection between your grandchildren and their parents, making you their legal parent. Under this court order, you’ll assume full parental responsibility for your grandchildren.
Family disputes can be trying, but at the heart of it, everyone will be concerned about the welfare of any children who may be impacted. While grandparents have no legal rights to visit or care for their grandchildren, there remain many options available to them to try to secure contact that’s in the best interests of the children.
Contact Waldrons Solicitors
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