Information on where the child will live, who has responsibility and making a child maintenance arrangement when parents are not together.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
This information applies to England and Wales only. Information about Scotland and Northern Ireland is available via the following links:
- Scotland: Contact with your grandchildren if their parents divorce or separate
- Northern Ireland: Family courts
Do grandparents have a right to see their grandchildren?
In England and Wales, grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to see their grandchildren.
However, they can try and get access through an informal arrangement or via a court order.
Does an agreement have to involve the court?
Grandparents can initially try to secure contact with their grandchildren through an informal agreement with the child’s parents or carers.
An independent family mediator can help families reach an agreement. The mediator will organise a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ (MIAM). A local mediator can be found on the family mediation council’s website.
Where arrangement cannot be reached informally, the grandparent can seek to apply for a child arrangements order to agree access.
A person can only apply to court once they have attended mediation, unless they are exempt (for example, because domestic violence is involved).
What is a child arrangements order?
A child arrangements order can determine where a child lives, when they spend time with a person named in the order, and when and what other types of contact, such as phone calls, take place with any person.
When the court determines whether to make (or vary or discharge) a child arrangements order, the child’s welfare is its paramount consideration (Children Act 1989, section 1(1)).
The court is additionally required to have particular regard to a range of factors, commonly referred to as the “welfare checklist”. As set out by section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, this includes:
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding).
- The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.
- The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances.
- The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant.
- Any harm which they have suffered or are at risk of suffering.
- How capable each of their parents are of meeting their needs.
How do grandparents apply for a child arrangements order?
Unlike a parent, a grandparent typically first requires the permission of the court before they can apply for a child arrangements order. They are not automatically entitled to apply for one unless an exception applies. This includes, for example, if the child has lived with them for a period of at least a year prior to the application (Children Act 1989, sections 10(5) and 10(5B)).
When a court considers an application for leave to apply for a child arrangements order, the welfare of the child is not its main consideration. Instead, as set out in section 10(9) of the Children Act 1989, the court “shall…have particular regard to” a range of factors, including:
- The nature of the proposed application.
- The applicant’s connection with the child.
- Any risk of the proposed application disrupting the child’s life to the extent that they would be harmed by it.
If leave is granted, then a child arrangements order can be applied for.
More detailed information on the requirement to seek the leave of the court before applying for a child arrangements order can be found in section 1.2 of the Library briefing on grandparents and court orders for contact with grandchildren (Great Britain).
What support is available for grandparents?
On the GOV.UK webpage, contact with your grandchild if their parents divorce or separate, it explains support and advice can be found from:
- the Family Mediation Council
- Kinship (a charity for kinship carers)
- National Family Mediation (a family mediation provider)
- Citizens Advice
Other sources of information and advice can be found in section 4 of the Library briefing on grandparents and court orders for contact with grandchildren (Great Britain).
The Library briefing on legal help: where to go and how to pay may also be helpful.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.
This House of Commons Library briefing provides information in anticipation of the debate, entitled "Grandparents' rights to access to grandchildren" and sponsored by David Mackintosh, which will take place on Tuesday 25th April in Westminster Hall at 4.30pm.
Children: child arrangements orders – when agreement cannot be reached on contact and residence (Great Britain)
This House of Commons briefing paper considers how contact and residence arrangements for children can be settled, for example following separation. If mediation is unsuccessful, then an application can be made for a child arrangements order although for some people the leave (i.e. permission of the court) is required to do so. A link to the full report in pdf format can be found at the bottom of this page.