Can grandparents be stopped from seeing their grandchildren?
Under the Children’s Act 1989, grandparents do not have specific legal rights regarding their grandchildren. This means grandparents do not have automatic rights for visitation or access. However, if you are a grandparent who has been denied contact with your grandchildren, there are steps you can take.
The first step is to try to reach an informal agreement with the child’s parents. If that does not work, the next step is to attend mediation.
Mediation is when an independent, impartial mediator works with you and your family to help you to reach an agreement between yourselves. If mediation fails, you can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order to gain access to your grandchildren. However, you cannot apply to the court unless you have attended a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM) first.
What is a Child Arrangements Order?
A Child Arrangements Order sets out where a child lives, who they live with, and the time they will spend with parents and other relatives.
Grandparents are classed as ‘relatives’ and therefore can apply for a Child Arrangements Order to secure visitation rights (or residency rights in certain circumstances).
If someone with parental responsibility for a child (one of the birth parents) objects to you applying for a Child Arrangements Order, then you will need to seek permission from the court to apply.
You will not need the parents’ permission to apply if:
- The child has lived with you for 3 years in the last 5 years and within the previous 3 months.
- The child is in care, and the local authority has given you permission to apply for the order.
The court uses the following ‘welfare checklist’ to decide whether to grant a Child Arrangements Order:
- What are the child’s wishes and feelings? This takes into account the child’s age and level of understanding.
- What are the child’s emotional, educational and physical needs?
- What effect will any change have on the child's circumstances?
- Is the child at risk of suffering from harm, or are they suffering harm?
- How capable is the applicant of meeting the child’s needs?
The court will also consider any other relevant factors, such as the child’s age, sex, background, and characteristics. An officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) may visit you, the child and their family and make a report. The court’s decision will be largely based on this report.