It is surprising that after many years of undertaking this work how certain myths persist within children law. One of those myths is in relation to “grandparents rights”. This is the idea or concept that grandparents automatically have rights over their grandchildren, which includes the right to spend time with them. Perhaps this myth has persisted given the amount of time and resources committed by grandparents to their grandchildren and various comments made in newspapers and opinion columns.
However, it has never been the case that grandparents have “rights” over their grandchildren nor do they have a right to spend time with them. This may seem unfair given that, most of the time, unless there is good reason otherwise, it is likely to be in a child’s best interests to have contact with their grandparents. Grandparents of course can play an invaluable and integral role in their grandchildren’s lives, in particular in terms of the support that they can provide to both grandchildren and parents.
What can grandparents do?
Further, if grandparents are prevented from seeing their grandchildren, they have no automatic right to make a court application to spend time with them. Unlike a parent they cannot simply make an application and ask the Court to consider the issues. However, importantly, there is a route forward for grandparents where attempts to resolve matters amicably and constructively – including mediation – have failed. Grandparents can apply to the Court but first they require the Court’s permission or leave. This is not an onerous test, but it does present a further step that must be crossed before the Court can consider the substantive issues. In deciding whether to grant permission the Court will look at a number of factors, including the nature of the proposed application, the connection with the child and any risk there might be of the application disrupting the child’s life to the extent that they would be harmed by it. If granted permission by the Court, the grandparents’ application to spend time with their grandchildren, for example can be considered like any other application made by a parent.
As with any issues relating to children it is important to seek advice early so that all options can be explored with a view to finding a pragmatic, child focused solution. At Stephens Scown, our specialist team of children solicitors will be able to advise and assist you on finding the right way forward for you and your family.