When it comes to divorce in the UK, do grandparents have rights? If so what are they?
Having a close relationship with your grandchildren is one of the joys of growing older.
But even the closest relationship between grandparent and child can come to an abrupt end if the child’s parents get divorced and one parent decides to cut all contact with his or her in-laws.
Unfortunately, the grandparents, unless the child has been living with them for three years has no automatic right to see or have contact with their grandchildren under UK law.
This situation is one I often have to deal with and can leave grandparents and the children devastated.
The Grandparents’ Association estimates that more than 1 million children in the UK do not have contact with their grandparents.
So, is there anything the grandparents can do?
The first thing I’d say is that it’s always better to try and resolve the situation by appealing to the parent to allow you to see the children or to offer to take part in a mediation process.
A solution reached in this way is not only less expensive and quicker than a lengthy Court process, but likely to be far less disruptive for the family and especially the children involved, and cause less animosity for the future.
However, if this doesn’t work – there is another way.
Even though your rights as a grandparent are limited, you can apply for permission (or leave) to apply for a Child Arrangements Order.
If permission is granted, you can then apply for an order. If either parent objects to this, though, you’ll have to attend a full hearing and will need expert legal representation.
During the hearing the Court will consider the following factors:
- why the application is being made
- how close you are to the child
- whether there is any risk that the proposed contact could have any negative effect on the child’s wellbeing in any way.
You basically have to persuade the Court that you have a strong, ongoing and beneficial relationship with your grandchildren.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
The Child Arrangements Order will set out whether the grandparents have been granted face-to-face visits or indirect contact, such as letters, video, text, Skype, e-mails and telephone calls.
I should say that the family Court does recognise how important it is for children to have contact with their grandparents and it is therefore not common for the Court to refuse a contact order unless there is a risk of harm to the children.
What if the parent does not obey the order?
Fortunately this doesn’t happen very often, but the Court can enforce an order if not obeyed by the child’s parents.
It’s always advisable to try to resolve any issues in an amicable way that is least disruptive to the child and to obtain legal advice at an early stage to ensure you don’t make matters worse.
When to face-to-face contact is not possible:
There are situations when the Court may only allow grandparents indirect contract and although this is obviously not ideal, it does at least offer you an opportunity to continue a relationship with your grandchildren.
In this situation, I always advise clients to try to establish a regular routine – for example getting in touch at the same time every week or month – so that the contact becomes a regular and expected part of the child’s life.
Ann Corrigan is founder of Clarity Family Law, a specialist family law firm in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, offering discreet, expert advice on all aspects of divorce, including the division of high value assets, children disputes and issues surrounding unmarried families.
Follow Ann on Twitter – @ClarityFamily