News and Events

Legal Rights of Grandparents UK

View profile for Richard Westley
  • Posted
  • Author

In my role as a family solicitor, I am often consulted by grandparents who, as a result of some sort of dispute or family breakdown, are no longer allowed to see their grandchildren.

In England and Wales, unlike parents, grandparents do not have automatic legal rights concerning their grandchildren. This means that you do not have the right to demand contact or make decisions on behalf of your grandchildren. So, unfair as this may seem, parents can keep children away from grandparents if they choose to.

It is ironic that, whilst in the past two generations, the number of children being regularly cared for by their grandparents has increased substantially, equally the numbers of grandparents who are not allowed access to their grandchildren has also increased.

It is, sadly, not uncommon for grandparents to be denied contact with (or “access” to) their grandchildren. There are many reasons which lead to this, the most common being disputes or disagreements with the parents or a divorce or family breakdown. Having played a key role in the upbringing of their grandchildren, for many a difficult and distressing consequence of family and relationship breakdown can be grandparents losing or being deprived of time with their grandchildren.

If you are being denied access to your grandchildren, the starting point, if relations will allow, is to contact the children’s mother and father and explain that, regardless of the problems, you would simply like to maintain a relationship with your grandchildren. Often, however, the relationship has broken down to the point where this kind of communication is not possible. One approach might be to send a carefully drafted letter from your solicitor which may explain why you feel contact is important.

However, there other options open to you. You can try to get access to your grandchildren through an informal arrangement or via a court order. Court proceedings can be lengthy, emotionally draining, and costly, and there is no guarantee of success. Before embarking on the court route, where possible, in the first instance I advise grandparents to consider alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, which involves trying to resolve the issues amicably with the assistance of a neutral third party, who is professionally qualified to assist in such situations. Exploring alternatives such as this can help in re-establishing trust and understanding amongst family members, avoid the need for legal action and, ultimately, lead to more amicable and workable solutions that are in the best interests of the child.

However, where alternative dispute resolution proves unsuccessful or is not a suitable option for your circumstances, it is possible to make an application to the court.  This should, of course, be the last resort because it can be stressful for all those involved – including the children.  But it could lead to a Child Arrangements Order being made which stipulates how often and under what circumstances you can spend time, or otherwise have contact, with your grandchildren.

The process is not straightforward and, as grandparents, you will probably (unless an exemption applies) first need to obtain the court’s permission to make an application.

Once permission has been granted, the process of seeking a Child Arrangements Order begins and may, depending on the issues in your case, involve a number of court hearings taking place, and, to help in reaching a decision, the court may also require professionals (such as social workers) to prepare reports in respect of the child’s welfare, as well as considering other evidence.

The child’s welfare will always be at the forefront and centre of the court’s mind when making decisions.

Regrettably, there are also circumstances where, despite having a Child Arrangements Order in place, the child’s parents refuse to abide by it.  If this happens, you should keep a detailed record of every instance where the Order has been breached, and there are then steps you can take to enforce the Order.

Again, this can be a complex are of law and it involves different legal issues to those which would have been considered as part of the original application.  A successful application to enforce an Order can result in punishment being given, including unpaid work or, in the most serious cases, imprisonment.

In a situation where the parents continue to defy a court order, I would recommend that you seek legal advice and representation.

Sometimes parents will try to use grandchildren as a way to settle scores in a family feud. This typically involves intentionally denying grandparents access to grandchildren, often as a form of revenge. This might be on a temporary and sometimes even permanent basis. In the most serious cases, parents can actually begin to turn grandchildren against grandparents.  This psychological manipulation can cause damage to relationships which may prove difficult or even impossible to repair in some cases.

At Pickerings we have a team of four solicitors who specialise solely in children law. They are familiar with the workings of the Family Court and regularly appear before different levels of judges.  They can advise you on the options available to you, the most appropriate steps to take in your circumstances and the prospects of success.  They understand the importance that you attach to having a relationship with, and being able to spend time with, your grandchildren.

Call us today on 01827 317070 or e-mail

Richard Westley is Head of the Children Law Team at Pickerings Solicitors. He has practised children law as a solicitor for over 14 years, is a member of the Law Society Children Law Accreditation Scheme (which means that he is recognised nationwide as a specialist in dealing with the areas of the law relating to children) and he regularly deals with the most complex children law cases, including those involving rights of grandparents.