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I’m a grandparent. What legal rights do I have?

Family breakdowns are hard on everyone, especially children. However, the impact of divorce, separation, or police involvement on grandparents is rarely considered a priority.

In this article, the Sweeney Miller team takes you through exactly which legal rights grandparents are entitled to with regards to their grandchildren.

Do grandparents have a legal right to see their grandchildren?
As it stands, grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to see their grandchildren.

However, family courts understand the role that grandparents can play in the life of a child. There are options for grandparents looking to secure the right to stay in contact with (or visit) their grandchildren.

This is the last resort for many grandparents, as most will first try to make an informal agreement with the child’s parents or carers. If negotiation is not successful, the issue at hand may require the involvement of the Court.

Prior to making an application to the Court, grandparents must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (except in cases of exemption).

Grandparents rights: Child Arrangements Orders
In exceptional circumstances, a Court may grant a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) at the request of a grandparent. A CAO is an order that sets out exactly where a child will live and who they’ll be spending time with.

Because it is usual for CAOs to only be requested by those with parental responsibility, a grandparent applying for one will find that they need permission from the Court before they can apply.

The Court will look at a variety of factors before they grant permission, and will decide based on a case-by-case basis:

  • How involved the grandparents are in the child’s life
  • Why the application is being made
  • What the parents think of the application being made
  • If the application could potentially harm the child

If the application is accepted, the Court will then decide whether making a CAO is in the best interests of the child.

Grandparents rights: Special Guardianship
When a child’s parents are unable to look after their child, a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) may be issued to another set of carers.

A Special Guardianship order is issued to provide the Special Guardians with parental responsibility for the child. This means that the Special Guardians will not need to consult the child’s parents when making decisions using parental responsibility.

If a grandparent wishes to become a Special Guardian, they will be assessed and evaluated by the local authority to see if they are suitable. This is extremely important as the SGO is intended to give the child a permanent home until they turn 18.

Grandparents rights: Adoption and Foster Care
If a grandchild is taken into foster care or adopted by another family, things can get tricky for birth grandparents.

Although being taken into care does not mean the child will never see their birth family again (unless it is wholly unsuitable for them to do so), local authorities tend to focus on maintaining contact between the child and their parents. This does mean that contact between a child and their grandparents may dwindle as it is not seen as a priority by Children’s Services.

In essence, this does mean that grandparents rights tend to become redundant.

If the child is being adopted, an order stating that the child may spend time with their birth grandparents may be made. However, this is extremely rare in practice (unless the adoption occurs within the family).

Can grandparents adopt their grandchild?
Legally, there is nothing to stop a grandparent adopting their grandchild.

However, such a dramatic change in family dynamic tends to cause conflict, which is why Special Guardianship Orders are a more popular choice for grandparents wishing to provide a permanent home for their grandchildren.

What are a grandparent’s rights following the death of a parent?
Should the parent(s) of a child pass away, there is no legal stipulation that grandparents have an automatic right to care for the orphan.

From the point of view of the child, being cared for by an uncle or aunt may allow them to feel more comfortable. However, some aunts and uncles have their own families and existing commitments, meaning they are unable to look after the child.

In this case, a grandparent may be better suited to take over the child’s care. This type of decision is usually decided internally (within the family) without involving the Court.

Legal advice from Sweeney Miller
Are you a grandparent concerned about the safety of your grandchild? Perhaps you’re looking to reconnect with a grandchild you’ve lost contact with due to estrangement, adoption, or other familial issues.

Sweeney Miller is an expert in family law, and we understand the distress that grandparents can experience in situations such as yours. Get in touch with a member of our team today for confidential, expert advice.

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