Grandparents do not have an automatic right of access to their grandchildren, that is, legal right to see their grandchildren if a parent denies them access. There is no legal presumption that contact with a grandparent, or any other extended family member, is in a child’s best interests. In Re A (A minor) (Grandparent: contact)  2 FLR 153 Butler-Sloss LJ presumed that a parent should have contact with their child unless there are cogent reasons to the contrary. This presumption does not however apply to any other family members. Despite this, the courts do recognise the value to a child in terms of having contact with extended family members, in particular grandparents. For example, in Re J (A child)  EWCA Civ 1346 Thorpe LJ said that it is important that trial judges recognise the valuable contribution that grandparents make.
In the event of a dispute regarding contact arrangements arising, the first thing to do is to try and reach an agreement with the parent/their legal guardian or attend mediation meetings to try and resolve the issues in an amicable way.
If matters cannot be agreed via negotiations or mediation then it may be necessary to make an application to the court to obtain an order which determines and regulates what the contact arrangements relating to access to their grandchildren will be. This is known as a Child Arrangements Order. Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary for the grandparent(s) to apply to the court for permission in the first instance.
In applying for a Child Arrangements Order, the court will be tasked with making a decision as to whether or not a grandparent should be able to spend time with their grandchild and if so, what sort of contact would be in the grandchild’s best interests. For example, an order might state that the grandparent can only have access to their grandchildren by telephone or letters (indirect contact). The order can decide mattes such as:
- where a child lives
- who a child spends time with and when
- what types of communication, such as face-to-face contact or phone calls, should take place between the child and someone named in the order
Where a parent is regarded as ‘unfit’ to look after their child, it is possible for grandparents to obtain access to their grandchildren by being appointed special guardianship to look after their grandchild under they are 18 years old. For this to be successful, an assessment carried out by the local authority will take place to see if the grandparent(s) is/are suitable to take on the responsibilities involved in caring for the child.
If the child is fostered or adopted by another family, unfortunately the local authority does not have a duty to promote contact with the grandparents. However, an order providing contact at the same time as the adoption order can take place for grandparents to be given the right to keep in contact with their grandchild.
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If you are facing difficulties in gaining access to your grandchild then please contact our Family Law Department on +44 (0) 1273 696962. Alternatively, request a callback, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for any other important news and updates.