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Contact and residence rights: a guide for grandparents

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Contact and residence rights: a guide for grandparents
Contact and residence rights: a guide for grandparents

Having a grandchild is a joy and a privilege many grandparents cherish above all else. But what if you are denied the right to see your grandchild? Contrary to what some may believe, grandparents in the UK have no automatic legal right to access their grandchild if their parents do not allow it.

There are several reasons why grandparents might be denied access. The most common reason is divorce or separation, particularly if your own child’s ex-partner has residence of the children. Another might be that you suspect your grandchild’s parents of putting them at risk through abuse or neglect, and are being barred from seeing them to prevent your intervention.

What many grandparents do not realise, however, is that there is a legal route to apply for the right to visit and/or to obtain a residence order.

Applying for contact

To apply for contact or a residence order, you must first make an application for permission to apply for a court order. Only people with parental responsibility can apply for a court order without permission. This first step also enables the court to see whether contact with you would be in your grandchild(ren)’s best interests. The court will consider what kind of relationship you have with your grandchild(ren) and their parents, the contact you’re looking to obtain (for example, set visitation hours or full residence) and whether the application would risk your grandchild(ren)’s safety or have any negative impact on the wider family.

Once permission is granted, grandparents can file an application for a Child Arrangement Order. If the parents object to your application, you may have to attend a hearing. Whatever happens, it’s essential to have expert legal advice when seeking contact with your grandchild(ren).

Try other methods first

While the court process is there as a last resort, an expert solicitor is likely to advise you to try less confrontational methods first to help you maintain a better ongoing relationship with your grandchild(ren)’s parents. There are two main ways to achieve this.

1. Communicate with the parents

Try opening communications with your grandchild(ren)’s parents, either face to face or via an email or letter. Stay neutral and try to rationally explain how much you miss your grandchild(ren) and the benefits to both parties of maintaining contact. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on how to approach this contact for the best chance of success. Depending on your family’s circumstances, however, and the level of conflict, this approach may be unsuccessful.

2. Family mediation

This is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method used by some divorcing couples to resolve disagreements out of court. It involves discussions with a trained mediator who, while unable to give legal advice, can help parties to resolve disputes via reasoned discussion.

Even if you decide to go through the court, you will be required to attend an introductory session called a mediation information and assessment meeting, which will explain the process and its benefits.

Legal advice is key

As with any family law matter, requesting access to grandchildren must be carried out in a careful and sensitive manner. Emotions are likely to be running high on both sides; as an expert third party, a family law solicitor can help you approach the matter logically and with understanding of both sides’ points of view. At Woodfines, our solicitors have many years’ experience in helping families resolve disputes and move forward into a brighter future. To get in touch, email familylaw@woodfines.co.uk.

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