Grandparents do not have an automatic right of access to their grandchildren in the U.K. but they can apply to have contact through the courts. There are no specific grandparents' rights laws. Grandparents can use British family law under the Children's Act 1989 to gain access and apply to be a carer if their action is in the child's best interests.
Grandparents can apply for a contact order if they have a meaningful relationship with their grandchild. They must have tried mediation with the parents before applying to the courts for a contact order. A officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) office may be appointed to oversee the case and help the court come to a decision. The grandparents should be prepared to attend court and give evidence as to why regular contact between the grandparents and the grandchild will be beneficial. Evidence from teachers, doctors and neighbours will help the case. The judge may decide how much contact is needed and will uphold the law if the child's parents try to ignore it.
Special Guardianship Orders
A special guardianship order may be granted by the family court requesting that a grandparent permanently care for their grandchild. In instances where parents can no longer look after their child through illness, separation or death, grandparents can apply to be special guardians. Unlike adoption, the child can maintain contact with their parents. Guardians will have parental responsibility of the child for the duration of the order and the responsibility of making decisions about his welfare. Applications are made through the court but the local social services department must also be notified. A social worker will be allocated to the case and a decision will be made by a judge after evidence is heard at a court hearing.
A residence order may be granted to a grandparent to improve the living arrangements of a child. In a situation where there has been a difficult break-up between parents or illness in the family, a grandparent, relative or close friend can apply for a residence order. The order will state where a child should live. Sometimes the order could be shared with another party and the judge will decide how long the child should spend at each location.
Grandparents can apply for parental responsibility even though they may not live with the child. Parental responsibility gives the recipient the right to make decisions about the child and their property until she becomes an adult. While the order does not give the grandparents a legal right of contact, it means that they can play an active part in the child's medical and educational welfare. Grandparents can apply for a parental responsibility order through the courts or through a voluntary agreement with the child's parents.