Grandparents’ Rights in the UK: A Beginner's Guide
Grandparents’ rights can be an overwhelming, delicate subject for many.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate event of a family dispute, it’s important that you know where you stand.
This page is the ultimate beginner’s guide to grandparents’ rights in the UK.
We’ll cover the fundamentals, how to action your concerns, and what to look out for along the way.
Read on to learn more.
What are Grandparents’ Rights?
The term ‘grandparents’ rights’ is most often used in a family dispute. If an unfortunate life event such as a divorce or incarceration brings custody into question, it’s only natural for grandparents to worry. In many cases, grandparents take on a parental role during times of hardship.
It’s important to note at this stage, however, that a commitment to a parental role is not the same as a legal claim over the responsibility. To guarantee things like visitation and care rights, it’s necessary to pursue these ‘grandparents’ rights’ through:
- A court order
We explain this process in more detail a little further down this page.
What are My Rights as a Grandparent?
All mothers and a majority of fathers in the UK have something called ‘parental responsibility' for their children. This is a responsibility to:
- Provide a home for their children
- Care for their children
- Ensure their children get an education
- Make medical decisions on behalf of their children
Salient within the context of this article is that parental responsibility affords most parents a right to see, care for, and make decisions on behalf of their children.
Unfortunately, grandparents don’t automatically have parental responsibility in any part of the UK.
So, what happens when family life breaks down? What if a child’s parents are unable to sufficiently provide for them? In cases such as these, it’s possible for grandparents to step in. Keep in mind, however, that this process is less simple than you may be hoping for.
Local Resources – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland
In all parts of the UK, the following is true of ‘grandparents’ rights’:
- Grandparents have no automatic claim over the care of their grandchildren. Visitation rights are also not guaranteed.
- Family mediation – and later a court appointment – are usually necessary in cases where family life breaks down.
- Grandparents can secure custody or visitation rights through a court order or a mutual family agreement.
While the law affecting your rights as a grandparent is the same across the UK, you may find that your specific experience can vary. Every family is different; each mediation and court case carries its own baggage.
What’s more, the process in Scotland and Northern Ireland differs slightly from that of England and Wales.
Seeking support that is as local as possible may help you through this challenging time.
England and Wales Resources:
Northern Ireland Resource:
How do I Get Custody of My Grandchildren?
The first thing to mention here is that in terms of UK law, the term ‘custody’ no longer exists. Instead, grandparents will have to secure a special court order that protects their rights to care for or see their grandchildren.
The specific order given is determined by your family’s circumstances and what the court deems will be best for the child in question.
Special Guardianship Order
A special guardianship can be appointed if a court deems it necessary. This would appoint you as your grandchild’s legal guardian until they turn 18 years old.
Kinship Foster Care
It’s possible to become a kinship foster carer for your child. This would allow you certain care and guardianship rights but is not the same as a full adoption.
Child Arrangement Order
A child arrangement order addresses concerns about visitation rights. It will decide when, where, and how often you are allowed to spend time with your grandchild.
In comparatively rare cases, a full adoption is possible. This will formally break the connection between your grandchild and their parents. You will legally become the parent of the child in question and have full parental responsibility for them.
The Steps to Securing Your Rights
Please keep in mind that every family, court decision, and emotional journey involved with grandparents’ rights looks a little different. That said, the following general process is followed:
Step One – MIAM
A formal meeting called a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) takes place. This usually costs around £100 - £160 and can be arranged through organisations registered with the Family Mediation Council.
Support is available to those who need it through the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme. However, your voucher can only cover your mediation sessions, not your MIAM.
A MIAM is not quite the same as a mediation. Instead, it’s an assessment meeting that exists to determine whether mediation would be the right course of action for your family.
Following Mediation (if MIAM is Successful)
If your MIAM was successful, you’ll be able to continue with mediation sessions for your family.
The goal of any mediation process will be to find compromises that suit all parties. Visitation, care, and what’s right for the child will be discussed. If this goes well, you’ll have successfully secured what you care about most as a grandparent – seeing and caring for your grandchild.
If mediation or your MIAM don’t work out, your mediator will provide you with a mediation certificate. You’ll need this if taking things further to court.
Step Two – Appealing to Court
For disputes about a child’s upbringing where a MIAM has already taken place, it may be necessary to apply for a court order. You’ll need what’s called a C100 form for this. In this form, you’ll have an opportunity to make your case about your grandchild’s care.
Remember that your focus here should be on what’s right for the child. What does your role in the child’s life provide? How will your visits, care, and support affect their livelihood?
A C100 application costs £215 and is necessary if you want the court to be involved with your family’s dispute. Once your application has been received, the court will appoint a welfare officer to your family.
This officer will assess your situation and advise the court on what action would most benefit your grandchild. The court will make a decision regarding your contact rights as a grandparent.
If you are granted indirect contact rights, you’ll be able to communicate with your grandchild through things like emails, video calls, etc, but won’t have a right to see them in person.
Direct contact rights are as described – they give you a right to visit your grandchild in person and spend time with them physically.
So, what happens if the court does not grant you contact with your grandchild at this stage?
Step Three – A Court Hearing
If the steps above still don’t help you secure your rights as a grandparent, it’s possible to attend a court hearing with your family. This works very differently to a criminal hearing and is entirely focused on the welfare of the children in question.
As with your C100 form, you’ll have a chance to provide evidence for your application. You’ll be able to explain what you feel is best for your grandchild. Remember that your argument should put the child at the centre of the discussion. Every grandparent wants to see their grandchildren, but what impact does your presence have in their life?
The parents of your grandchildren will also be able to provide evidence and make their own case.
When coming to a verdict, the court will take the evidence provided at the hearing into account and combine it with an existing report from your welfare officer.
You’ll be granted contact rights as a grandparent if the court decides it’s in the best interests of the child in question.
Links and Support
Fighting for parental responsibility can feel like an uphill battle at the best of times. The organisations listed below may be of help on your journey.
A leading kinship charity in Wales and England. Grandparents in a kinship or fostering situation may value their guidance and support.
A UK charity focused on the wellbeing of families across the country. Specific advice and guidance is available for grandparents via their website.
The Family Mediators Association
A superb resource for families looking into mediation procedures. Step-by-step guides, search functions, and remote mediation services are all available.
Whether you have a specific question or are just unsure where to start, Citizens Advice exists to support UK residents in matters such as grandparents rights. Be sure to choose your specific country when visiting the site to get relevant guidance.
Grandparents’ Rights – The Verdict
The bottom line is that grandparents have no automatic right to visit or care for their grandchildren. However, these rights can be secured through a process of mediation, court application, and court hearing.
It all comes down to what’s best for the child in question. If your presence in your grandchild’s life is a genuinely positive one, you stand a very good chance of securing your rights. Just be ready for an arduous process to get there.
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