20th November 2023
My grandchildren’s parents are separating, do I have any rights to keep seeing them?
So often grandparents play a significant role in the upbringing, and care of their grandchildren. But it’s important to understand that this does not give them any legal rights under parental responsibilities.
Unfortunately, when parents separate or divorce, especially acrimoniously, many grandparents are left out in the cold unable to gain access to their grandchildren.
This is because despite being blood relatives, grandparents have no automatic legal rights or responsibilities to see their grandchildren.
However, all is not lost as there are options if you feel you have been unfairly restricted by your in-laws from seeing your grandchildren.
Seeking legal advice would be the first step, where you will be encouraged, under their guidance, to open up negotiations through solicitor correspondence. Most solicitors will try to reach an agreement on your behalf either directly or through other collaborative methods known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). This can involve mediation, round table meetings or Collaborative Law. It is always considered better to try to achieve resolution without going through the courts which can be a long and expensive process. If you can reach an agreement, with or without ADR, it can be drawn up and recorded formally.
The mediation process is a popular option as it can help you and the parents sort out an agreement without necessarily sitting in the same room as each other. This is known as ‘Shuttle Mediation’. But, if an agreement isn’t reached, then grandparents can make an application for an order through the courts.
Only the parents hold parental responsibility and can therefore make day-to-day decisions about who their children can see. However, grandparents can acquire parental responsibility through an application to the courts. Given the nature of this type of order, it is usually reserved to those grandparents that have their grandchild living with them and so it makes sense for them to be able to make those day-to-day decisions about their health, education and other important wellbeing issues as they arrive.
It is far more likely that if all else fails and, only once mediation has been attempted, a grandparent applies to the court under The Children Act 1989. This is where you can ask the court to determine where a child lives, who, when and how others can have access to them. It doesn’t have to determine all of these things and can just deal with determining the regular contact arrangements between a grandparent and grandchildren. Be advised however that grandparents need the permission of the court before they can make their application under The Children Act.
A C100 application form is needed and there is a current court charge of around £215. The parents will be given notice of the application and invited to participate in the proceedings. If a parent opposes the application, the grandparents may still continue, however the court will still encourage an agreement at all stages. If an agreement cannot be reached with the assistance of the court, a judge will ultimately make a decision that is binding upon everyone at a final hearing.
Under the Children Act 1989, the court must put the best interests of the child ahead of any other consideration.
Therefore, the court will listen to the views of the grandchildren, if they are old enough to express them.
It will also consider:
The court will then decide what sort of contact would be in the child’s interest and what that contact might look like (e.g., in some cases where there are concerns for a child’s wellbeing, you might only be given contact through telephones and letters).
You should try to maintain contact with your grandchildren as much as possible, as well keeping a good relationship with the parents. If direct contact is not possible, maintain an age appropriate line of communication through occasional cards or letters in the meantime. It always best to let the parents know if you are keeping in touch with their children.
Any conversation should be child-focused and should avoid the topic of conflict. It is also important to record your communication with your grandchildren, as this could be used as evidence in any possible future court case that ensues.