Although it is commonly thought that grandparents have a legal right to see their grandchildren the legal position is somewhat different. There is no automatic right for grandparents to see their grandchildren.
Having said that’ the courts will normally recognise that grandparents can play an invaluable role in children’s lives and will often consider that the child’s best interests will be served by having a relationship with their grandparents.
Unlike parents, grandparents cannot automatically make an application to the court for a child arrangement order. Unless the child has been living with the grandparents for a period of over one year, they must seek the court’s permission to make an application. This will normally be a formality in situations where the grandparents have an established relationship with the child. However, in any application the court will need to consider the reasons for making the application, the connection between the grandparents and the child, the views of the parents and whether the application would be harmful to the child. If permission is granted, then the court will go on to consider whether it’s in the child’s interests to have face-to-face or indirect contact with their grandparents. The court will always look to make the order that is in the child’s best interests.
It is becoming more frequently the case that grandchildren are being cared for by their grandparents. This can be for several reasons but particularly where the parents are unable to care themselves. In those circumstances, grandparents should look to secure the children’s placement with them on a legal basis.
In such cases or where social services are involved then the grandparents can apply to be appointed as special guardians for their grandchildren. If this is something that is necessary, then the local authority will undertake an assessment to see if the grandparents are suitable. A special guardianship order is intended to confirm where the child is to live until they become eighteen. Such an order would enable the grandparents to have final say in any decision about the welfare of their grandchildren. Other advantages are that social services will have to assess what support is needed for the child.
Grandparents can also play a larger role in the lives of their grandchildren where the local authority seeks the removal of the children from their parents or if the parents pass away.
Here at Evans & Greaves we can advise the best way forward in all such circumstances.