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The Library takes a number of requests from MPs and their staff on this topic, as often grandparents are unaware that, where agreement cannot be reached with a child’s carers, they are not only required to seek a court order (namely a “child arrangements order”) but they are usually also required to gain the permission of the court (known as the leave of the court) before they can apply.

The leave requirement is in place “to act as a filter to sift out those applications that are clearly not in the child’s best interests”. The granting of leave does not raise any presumption that the application for a child arrangements order will succeed.

The leave requirement has remained in place despite having been considered by a number of recent policy reviews. The Labour Government produced a Green Paper in 2010 setting out an intention to remove the requirement to seek leave of the court, although this was never implemented. The Government-commissioned Family Justice Review reported in November 2011 that “the need for grandparents to apply for leave of the court before making an application for contact should remain. This prevents hopeless or vexatious applications that are not in the interests of the child”. The Coalition Government accepted this recommendation and the current Conservative Government has not amended the Children Act 1989 in this regard.

In March 2019, the Government said that it planned “significant reforms” to private (and public) law regarding children, although it did not state whether this would include the issue of grandparents requiring leave to apply for a child arrangements order.

In Scotland, under the relevant legislation (Children (Scotland) Act 1995) grandparents do not require the leave of the court before they can apply for a contact order.

This note applies to England and Wales. The arrangements for Scotland are also outlined in this paper.

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