Family - Grandparent’s rights after a divorce

There’s no doubt that divorce or separation is a difficult time, not just for the couple involved, but for the wider family too. One of the main priorities of the court is to protect the interests and wellbeing of any children who may be caught up in hostile divorce battles. But what about other members of the family, such as the grandparents?

There’s no doubt that divorce or separation is a difficult time, not just for the couple involved, but for the wider family too. One of the main priorities of the court is to protect the interests and wellbeing of any children who may be caught up in hostile divorce battles. But what about other members of the family, such as the grandparents?

During a divorce or dissolution, grandparents can often be kept out of the loop and denied contact with their grandchildren. In some cases it can come as a shock when one party denies them time with their family. So what can grandparents do in this painful situation?

Taking the first steps

The sad truth is, there is no automatic right for grandparents to see their grandchildren under English law either during or after a divorce. An attempt was made to introduce the Grandparents (Access Rights) Bill 2010-12, but it was never finalised, and thus never became law.

Divorces can create tense environments, so once the dust has settled, It’s best to informally reach out to the parents first to try to come to an agreement before you take further action. Emphasise that you have no intention of ‘taking sides’ or becoming involved in the break up. Hopefully the parents will come to realise that grandparents have a great deal to offer their children.

If you cannot come to a mutual agreement then grandparents should look towards mediation as the next step. A neutral mediator will help by bringing both parties together and suggesting solutions to resolve the disputes. It’s important to remember that the children’s needs should be the focus of all discussions.

Applying to court

If mediation is impractical or no final solution is agreed upon, grandparents can apply to the courts. As grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply for contact, they will need to apply for permission (known as ‘leave’) first. The courts will then consider:

  • The applicant’s connection with the child.
  • The nature of the application for contact.
  • Whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child’s well-being in any way.

If successful, grandparents can then apply for a Contact Order through the courts to gain access to grandchildren. A Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer will help you with your case and prepare the necessary reports. Grandparents will require the services of a legal representative. 

Family courts are now more aware of the significance of a grandparent’s role in the child’s life, especially during what would is likely to be a particularly emotional time for the children. So they are more likely to set guidelines for access and establish a form of contact.

What if one or both parents do not comply with the court order?

If one or both parents object to the grandparents having access to grandchildren, then the grandparents will likely have to attend a full hearing. However, once a court has deemed that grandparent access is in the child’s best interest, the courts will not tolerate any objections or efforts to thwart a contact order.

 In any case, the wellbeing of the children must always be the number one priority, regardless of the feelings of the parents. Grandparents going through access disputes are advised to seek legal advice with a solicitor that specialises in family law.