Do grandparents have legal rights to see their grandchildren?

Category: Children, Family, Grandparents

Clients will often ask me about the ‘rights’ of fathers and mothers. The question of grandparents’ rights comes up often as well. However, the correct legal answer is that no such ‘rights’ actually exist. The law that governs children’s relationships with the significant adults in their life is found in the Children Act 1989. This legislation took a very deliberate step away from considering any ‘rights’ of adults involved. Instead, it focused on the responsibilities of adults and the rights, and more specifically the welfare, of children.

What are grandparents’ rights?

The Children Act establishes the concept that the childs’ welfare is the most important aspect for any court to consider. Any so called ‘rights’ of adults fall away in preference to the child’s welfare.

This may initially seem like a blow to adults, and particularly grandparents, who have been excluded from the childs’ life. However, in reality, the legislation simply acknowledges that the focus must always be on the child. It also builds mechanisms for important relationships to be supported and upheld. At all times though, these relationships are subject to them being in the best interests of the child.

Resolving conflicts

Parents and holders of Parental Responsibility are automatically entitled to apply to Court to resolve conflicts about a child. Grandparents and wider family members (including step parents without parental responsibility), must first get permission from the Court to issue an application to resolve a dispute. This is not intended to prevent important family members from pursuing an application. Instead. it’s more of a ‘safety valve’ to ensure that children and their parents aren’t subjected to being the focus of unreasonable applications following a relationship breakdown.

The Court needs to look at all of the factors, in order to decide whether to grant permission or not. This includes the existing relationship between the child and the family member, the benefits to the child of the relationship being able to continue, the risks or harm to the child if the relationship were to end and also the ability of the relationship to be secured in some way other than through a Court Order.

This is a very specialist area. I would strongly advise grandparents or other wider family members to seek specialist legal advice at an early stage.

It’s almost always preferable to resolve matters without Court proceedings. A negotiated agreement gives the best prospect of workable future adult relationships. These should then be able to continue long after the lawyers have closed their files. I will always try to achieve agreement through respectful and appropriate lawyer communication. However, if that’s unsuccessful and other avenues to maintain or build an important relationship do not exist (or have been exhausted), then a well judged application to Court can secure important relationships for the child.

It’s all about the child

Overall, the lack of grandparents’ ‘rights’ is not something to lament. The focus on the welfare of the child gives the Court the opportunity to make bespoke and sometimes creative orders that really benefit the child, which is no doubt what most adults would say is what they themselves are aiming to achieve in any event.

Early legal advice from a specialist lawyer is vitally important. They’ll be able to advise and assist you in resolving and improving the situation, for the benefit of the child. An unnecessarily litigious and aggressive approach is unlikely to resolve the situation well and may in fact cause additional pain, stress and cost, without achieving the desired outcome. On the other hand,  a child focused, dignified and respectful approach has the best prospect of an early resolution to achieve an outcome that prioritises the welfare of the child, to include recognising the importance of all the key family relationships for the child as they grow up.

Do you need help?

Our Family team are here and we’d really love to help you with this. We know this can be a pretty stressful time for you. Please rest assured that we’ll do everything that we can to help. In the first instance, we’d suggest that you give Eleanor Barber a call on 01752 827030. You can also email us at [email protected] or request a call back by filling out our Contact Form.