In recent times, grandparents have acquired an increasingly important role in the lives of their grandchildren. The cost of childcare and full time work pushes some parents to seek informal childcare with grandparents. One in three working mothers have help from grandparents whilst almost two thirds of all grandparents look after their grandchildren regularly. Some grandparents may care for their grandchildren full time due to the parents being unable to care as a result of a range of reasons.
Where grandparents do care for their grandchildren full time, they may be left wondering what their position is in regards to decisions for the child’s health, education, and travelling overseas. Grandparents may be use to regular contact however, when family relations break down for example if the parents separate grandparents may be left in a position where they are unclear of what their rights are.
In short, there are no automatic legal rights for grandparents to seek to care for, have contact with or make decisions regarding their grandchildren. There is no specific reference to grandparent’s rights in legislation however the Family Court and Parliament do recognise the invaluable role of grandparents. The matter was last discussed in Parliament in May 2018 where it was urged that consideration was given to grandparent’s rights in Family Law however no change has been effected to reflect this.
Whilst there is no automatic legal rights for grandparents, grandparents can still apply to the courts for their voice to be heard whether they are seeking contact or for the child to live with them. The first stage for Grandparents or any other family member that does not have Parental Responsibility is the need to have permission granted by the court for their application to be heard. The purpose of this first stage is to filter out inappropriate applications as a protection against interference in the child’s care, comfort and security. If the permission is granted then the matter can proceed and the application can be considered. It is likely when considering whether permission can be granted the court will consider:
- The grandparent’s connection with the child;
- Nature of the application;
- If application had the potential to be harmful to child’s wellbeing.
If you are in the position whereby the parents have separated or there has been a breakdown in relations within the family and you are seeking contact with your grandchild then it may be beneficial to attempt to resolve this with a discussion. You may also wish to attend mediation as a family in an attempt to resolve this.
If a child is living with grandparents under an informal agreement then it is likely they will not have parental responsibility for the child. Therefore it may be beneficial for the grandparent’s in the best interest of the child’s security and welfare to make an application to the court to make the living arrangement formal; this could be under a Special Guardianship Order.
For further advice please contact a member of our Family Law Team