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What rights do grandparents have to see their grandchildren?

Hannah Jolliffe / 14 April 2015

Around a million grandchildren are denied contact with their grandparents. We look at your rights and what can be done in this situation.

Toy for grandchild
Being denied contact with a grandchild can be devastating, but there are steps you can take to rebuild broken relationships

Do grandparents have rights to see their grandchildren?

Sadly, grandparents have no automatic right to be part of their grandchildren’s lives. “The discovery of this can be devastating,” says Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation. “A divorce or separation can shatter grandparents’ lives as much as the parents’ - it can mean contact with the grandchildren they love is suddenly blocked.”

Rebuilding broken relationships

It’s often possible to rebuild relationships yourself, and this should always be your first approach. Remind the parents of the positive role grandparents can play in a child’s life – and reassure them that you’re there to help and support them all.

Of course, family conflict is difficult to navigate and it often takes more than a few kind words. The Grandparents’ Association says written communication can help and suggests writing a letter or email to convey how you feel. They have a sample letter you can use as a starting point.

Mediation services can help

If your efforts at reconciliation are failing then you may need to seek professional help. “This doesn’t have to mean immediately contacting a solicitor,” says Jane Robey. “Grandparents can approach a mediation service for help. Professionally trained mediators will help them negotiate with their relatives and reach a settlement.”

Why use family mediation?

  • It’s quicker and less stressful than court.
  • Families can make long-term solutions that are in everyone’s best interests.
  • Families can keep control of their own future, instead of handing it over to courts.
  • Recent changes mean that many grandparents no longer qualify for legal aid to go to court, yet it does remain available for mediation.

Taking legal proceedings

Family courts can make a child arrangement order, which can give grandparents the right to see their grandchild, if the court considers this would be in the child’s best interests. However, Lynn Chesterman, CEO of the Grandparents’ Association, says this is a complicated procedure and should only be used as a last resort.

“Grandparents have to go to court twice – once to ask for permission to go to court and then again to ask for contact. There is often only a small chance of getting contact at the end.”

Lynn also warns that it can get expensive now that legal aid laws have changed. “Make sure you find a lawyer who is qualified in family law – many will give you 20 minutes free advice on the telephone.”

Putting your grandchild’s wellbeing first

Children benefit from reassurance in times of change, and grandparents can play an important role in this situation. Remaining impartial and refraining from taking sides isn’t easy, but it’s vital to help children feel secure. Remember, they need to know:

  • It’s not their fault
  • They are loved
  • They have someone to talk to about their feelings

“Children can have conflicting loyalties after their parents have split, so grandparents can unexpectedly find themselves with a role as an impartial listener,” explains Jane Robey. “Help your grandchildren by talking about their feelings without taking sides and without criticising either parent.”

Find out what to do when grandchildren are in care

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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