UK Grandparent Access Rights in 2021 – (what you NEED to know)
Welcome to the guide for grandparents’ access rights!
At Direct Mediation Services, we deal with countless grandparents who feel lost as to what they can do to have contact with their grandchildren following a relationship breakdown. From our experience we understand that grandparents can really be stuck in the middle when the marriage or relationship of their adult children breaks down. It is difficult to know what to do, and who to contact to arrange contact with the grandchildren. The relationship breakdown in your family is of no fault of your own, but sometimes it can cause you to end up separated from your grandchildren, which is heart-breaking. Whilst grandparents do not usually have the same rights as parents for children, this does not mean that you cannot get contact with your children. Yes, the law is less straightforward for grandparents, which can be very confusing. Where do you start? We have This brief guide is to help you understand your rights and to know what steps to take going forward.
This is information and does not amount to legal advice. It is applicable only to England and Wales. Further information can be found on the government website.
What are my rights as a grandparent?
Do I have any rights as a grandparent?
The short answer is no – you don’t have automatic rights, but you can apply to the family courts for permission to make applications respective of your grandchildren. The reason for this is the general rule in child arrangements cases is that the applicant must have parental responsibility, which grandparents cannot get without a child arrangements order.
If the court grants permission for you to make an application, then you can apply to see your grandchildren under the Children Act (1989). The courts in your initial application will consider your connection to the child(ren) carefully and will decide whether ordering contact would be in the best interests of your grandchildren. If you have never seen your grandchildren, or saw them infrequently, then it is unlikely the courts will get involved; however, if you saw them regularly and have a strong bond, which you can evidence, then it is more likely the courts will look at your application for permission more favourably. It is not uncommon for the courts to enable grandparents to have contact with their grandchildren.The key here is to explain the role you played in your grandchildren’s life up until your contact stopped. It is best to take action to resolve the solution sooner rather than later, and it doesn’t always mean going to court.
Mediation is a very effective tool for grandparents and parents to agree on contact and it is strongly advised that mediation is attempted before any court proceedings are initiated. We have supported countless grandparents to achieve this and mediation often works and moreover avoids the difficulties of court proceedings.
What should I do first to try and get contact with my grandchildren?
1. Try and maintain contact – If you can keep the relationship going with both parents and maintain communications this would be best. You may be able to explain that you won’t take sides and offer them both support. If you are worried about what to say in a conversation, you might write a letter or email. Always try and make sure that letters and emails are child focused and do not antagonise the situation. Here are a few suggestions that might help:
- Explain that you miss your grandchildren and that they will surely miss you.
- Say that you are willing to offer practical support during this difficult time.
- Offer emotional support if you can, by saying that you are there if they wish to talk.
- Suggest that the child is asked about how they feel about future contact.
- Explain that you still want to be part of their family, despite what has happened.
By writing, it gives you time to carefully choose your words and to think about the level of support you want to offer. However, this approach may not always be possible, as the level of conflict may be too high, or you may receive a negative response following your attempts. If you do make indirect contact via a letter, an idea is to make sure this is sent via signed/tracked postage so that you can evidence to the court that you sent the letter.
2. Family mediation – A mediator is an independent person who can support you and the parents in trying to reach an agreement regarding the time you spend with your grandchildren. The first step is for you to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). During this you talk about your case and the mediator will take notes and tell you about the mediation process, including the different types, such as face-to-face and shuttle, for cases where there is a high level of conflict. If mediation is suitable, the mediator will then write to the parent(s) inviting them to mediation. If this invitation is accepted, then they will also have a MIAM. Again, if mediation is appropriate, a time and date will be set for mediation to take place. If it is decided that mediation is not the right route, the mediator will issue a mediation certificate, which will allow you to make an application to court for a child arrangements order. Remember that in order to apply for a child arrangements order, you must have attended a MIAM (save for exceptional circumstances). Always make sure your mediator is registered with the Family Mediation Council and can issue a mediation certificate.
3. Family Court – This really should be the very last option to be considered, but it is recognised that sometimes this is the only path available. Courts do not like to intervene into the lives of children, but when the responsible adults cannot find a way forward, and it is for the benefit of the children, then they will. You will need to seek permission to the courts to make a C100 application, so it is very important you organise your evidence of the relationship you have with your grandchildren. Remember, grandparents do not have automatic rights to make applications regarding children so permission must be sought. You can do this by submitting the supplementary C2 form along with the C100 application. Court tends to like dates, times and places. You may have photographs and other types of evidence that you wish to include.
What can I be doing now?
Indirect contact – If you were previously having regular contact, it is important that you try and keep in touch with your grandchildren. However, this can depend on the age of the grandchildren. Before you start this, you may wish to contact the parents out of courtesy to let them know what you plan on doing. At every opportunity, always try and de-escalate the situation.
Your grandchildren may have their own phones or laptops, so you may be able to text or video call. If this is not available, or contact has been prohibited, you might want to consider writing a letter to them. This will let them know that you are still there. Keep the content of your writing neutral and make sure it is child focused. It would be best to avoid the topic of the conflict and focus on subjects such as school, hobbies, friends. You may wish to include a photo of you doing something, or even a small present such as a story book. When you correspond, it is important to take a copy of your letter, save your email or copy your phone log, as it may be used as evidence for any court case that later ensues. This shows that you have maintained contact. If you send letters, you may wish to think about sending them Signed For or Special Delivery. This ensures that they are not lost in the post and that they have reached their destination. It again provides evidence as well that the letters were sent, even if the letters are intercepted. The last point about keeping in touch with your grandchildren, is to do it regularly, even if you don’t get a reply. You might think of including a stamped addressed envelope, so it is easy for them to reply. Many grandparents say that writing actually makes them feel better psychologically, as there is a feeling that they are doing something to maintain that bond. It can also be nice for the children to know that you still care about them. Many grandparents tell us that they are worried the situation will impact any future relationship with their grandchildren so maintaining indirect contact, where appropriate, gives some peace of mind.
My son is not on the child’s birth certificate. What can I do?
This can be a very difficult situation and you may benefit from getting some legal advice about the options available to you. Your son would only have parental responsibility if he was married to his partner at the time of the birth, or his name was on the child’s birth certificate. If this is not the case, and you have contact with your son, you might want to ask your son if he is having contact and if not, try resolving the situation together, rather than working in isolation. Your son may also appreciate your support.
It is common in these situations for two applications to court to be made where mediation has failed – one by the son without parental responsibility and one by the grandparents also seeking contact. Remember that these must be separate applications, so do not do a joint application as both father and grandparent.
How do I make an application to court as a grandparent for contact?
Family court is always the last resort. The process can be expensive and if you engage solicitors or barristers, costs can easily reach £2,000 in preparing for a court hearing. At the subsequent hearings further costs will be incurred. When speaking to legal professionals one tip is to ask for fixed fees for specific stages of the process. This will allow you to manage your finances easier.
Many people think it is necessary to have a solicitor or barrister when you go to court, but this is not the case – you can represent yourself. This is not an unusual situation and many people do it. Since the harsh cuts to the legal aid, many people have been left in a situation where self-representation is the only viable option. This is known as being a “litigant in person”. Don’t be scared of asking for help or clarification during the court process. Some law firms offer free-half hour appointments which can provide you with some legal advice. You may also be able to manage the process yourself with support from organisations such as the Support Through Court, a community legal centre, or Citizens Advice Bureau.
Do I have an automatic right to make the application as a grandparent?
As mentioned previously, the sad truth is that you, as a grandparent, do not have an automatic right to have contact with your grandchildren. However, it is accepted that the family courts do recognise the important role that grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren. It is not often that the family court would refuse an application, unless there had been no contact previously, or there was evidence of abuse or violence.
Step 1 – Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM)
As stated, if you are going to make an application to the court, you will have to have attempted mediation with an accredited mediator, unless you are exempt. If mediation has not been successful, you will be issued with a mediation certificate, which will allow you to make the application to the courts. The average cost for a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) ranges from £100 – £300. At Direct Mediation Services, we charge £120 per person per session.
Step 2 – C100 Application
If mediation fails and you are issued with a certificate, then your next step will be to complete an application to court. The C100 application form can be found online. You can either complete it online or print it out. The form can be quite daunting, but we have written a useful guide, which may be of help when completing the form. If you would like to discuss completing the C100 form, please give us a call and we can point you in the right direction. As stated, you will need to apply for permission to make this application, which will require a supplementary form – the C2. Always remember that the child is at the centre of all proceedings and therefore it is best to focus on why the child should have contact with you, not why you should have contact with the child.
There is a fee for the application, which is £215. This is paid to the court. If you are getting benefits or are on a low income, you might get some help paying the fee. We strongly advise using the governments help with fees eligibility checker as if you can get some funding for court proceedings it can really take some of the stress away. You will likely be eligible for help with fees if you receive welfare benefits or are on low income. As grandparents, you may well no longer be working so it is wise to check this before paying any court fees.
Step 3 – CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service)
The family court will look at whether or not you can spend time with your grandchild and if so, what sort of contact would be in the child’s interest. There are two types: i) Indirect Contact – letters, telephone calls. ii) Direct Contact – seeing your grandchild face to face.
If permission is granted for your application to be heard. The court will appoint a CAFCASS Welfare Officer to speak to everyone involved in the case. The officer will look into all of the issues raise concerning the welfare of the child or children. Following this, a CAFCASS report will be sent to the courts to assist them in deciding on the contact arrangements.
The parties concerned in the proceeding will receive a copy of the CAFCASS report. If it strongly recommends contact to be allowed, you may try and ask the parent to allow contact. If this does not happen, then the case will proceed to a full hearing.
For further information, take a look at our blog post that answers some of the frequently asked questions regarding CAFCASS.
Step 4 – Court Hearing
Understandably, people are often very worried about attending a court hearing. Everyone who works in the court, whether they are a District Judge, a family magistrate or a legal advisor to the court, do the work because they wish to help families. It is not like a criminal court, where someone is going to be found guilty or not guilty. The environment is more supportive, as everyone recognises that there is a child at the centre of the proceedings. In recent years, the family court is making a conscious effort to create a less formal environment in family cases. For example, lawyers very rarely wear full court dress in the family court – it most certainly is not like the criminal court that you see on the TV!
During the hearing, the applicant (you) and the respondent (the parent of your grandchild) will put forward their evidence. You will need to explain how you have been involved in the lives of your grandchildren and the negative impact that not having contact will have on them. The court, when making their decision, will also consider the CAFCASS Officer’s report, which comes with recommendations.
If it is in the child’s best interest, an order will be made by the court, which will outline how contact will be going forward. Always remember that legal proceedings involving children will always focus on their best interests.
What happens if the parents ignore the court order?
This sometimes happens, which is very frustrating. However, you are able to bring the case back to court and explain that the order has been breached. The family court then has the powers to enforce the order and punish the individual(s) who have disregarded the original order.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have an automatic legal right to see my grandchildren?
No, you don’t, so you need to seek permission to the courts when you make your application. However, it is very rare that the court don’t allow application from grandparents and recognise the important role they play in family life.
What should I do as a grandparent if I cannot see my grandchildren?
The first step is to try and make contact with the parents to see if it can be resolved informally. If not, try mediation and then if that does not work, make a court application.
What is the legal process for grandparents wanting to see their grandchildren?
You will need to attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) first and then if that is not successful, make your application to the family court. Following this, you will attend a hearing at your local family court.
Do I need a solicitor to make my application as a grandparent to court?
There is no requirement for you to use a solicitor. Many grandparents go to court by themselves and manage the process without an issue. If you require support there are a number of charities who can help you, such as Support Through Court.
Sadly, many grandparents in England and Wales, who face separation from their grandchildren due to their son or daughter separating or divorcing from their partner, do not attempt family mediation, but book an appointment to see a family lawyer. In many countries in Europe, it is a mediator, who people see first. The aim of the family mediator is to try and de-escalate the family situation and to look at whether the issues can be resolved without going to court. The other benefits of using family mediation is that there is the potential that you could save a lot of money. Court cases can cost thousands of pounds and take much longer. It seems that the average wait in court is about three months.
Direct Mediation Services have experience of helping grandparents and are an award-winning family mediation firm. Within our team of experienced mediators, accredited by the Family Mediation Council, many are grandparents themselves.
As explained in the guide above, the mediation process starts with a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting), which costs £120. This fee includes the issuing of the mediation certificate if necessary. You attend the MIAM alone and the family mediator will talk to you about how mediation works and ask you about the problems you are having regarding contact with your grandchildren. The cost per hour per person is the same if your case continues to mediation.
The feedback we have received from our clients, many of them grandparents, has been very positive. We believe that you will find family mediation a good starting point and hopefully through the process you will find a way forward.
It is to be remembered that this guide is for general guidance only. If you believe you require legal advice, we suggest that you seek professional legal advice from a family solicitor or barrister.
Direct Mediation Services is a trading name for The Intelligent Solutions Group Ltd. We always try to make sure that the information we give is accurate and up-to-date. Remember that we do not accept liability for any loss, damage or inconvenience resulting as a consequence of any use of, or the inability to use any information presented here or on this website. We are unable to promise that the information we have written will be free from errors. We are not responsible for any claims brought by third parties coming from your use of information found on our website or any links provided.
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