Legal Rights of Grandparents in the UK
When parents divorce, one or both sets of grandparents may find themselves unable to see their grandchildren. United Kingdom law allows grandparents to request visitation via the courts once they receive permission for a visitation hearing.
Grandparents may also be able to appoint themselves as guardians of their grandchildren should the children's parents become incapacitated. The UK court system encourages grandparents and parents to make informal arrangements for visitation and care whenever possible to avoid lengthy court battles.
No Automatic Visitation
Grandparents in the United Kingdom do not have automatic rights to visitation with their grandchildren. This means that if the parents divorce, the custodial parent can bar grandparents from visiting their grandchildren.
Grandparents in the UK have the right to ask the courts to grant them visitation. The court order granting visitation is called a contact order.
To obtain a contact order, grandparents must first get a "leave to apply for a contact order." This is permission from the court for the grandparents to make a case to get visitation. Grandparents must take this step because UK law says that only parents have visitation rights over their children. To get this permission, grandparents must demonstrate that they have an ongoing relationship with their grandchild and that the child's well-being will not be harmed by their grandparents seeking visitation.
Once the court grants the grandparents leave, they can apply for a contact order. A contact order allows them to visit their grandchildren under certain circumstances. If the parents object to visitation, the court holds a hearing to determine whether the grandparents should have visitation rights.
In cases where the grandparents, rather than the parents, are primarily responsible for taking care of the children, grandparents can apply for a special guardianship order. A special guardianship order gives the grandparents legal rights to take care of the children and make medical and educational decisions for them. It also allows them to take the children if the parents are incapacitated, rather than having the children placed in foster care. Unlike adoption, special guardianship does not terminate the parents' rights regarding their children. In cases in which parents are physically or mentally ill and cannot take care of their children, special guardianship allows grandparents to take over until the parents are able to resume their parenting duties.