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Is a grandparent entitled to contact with their grandchild?

Our People - Loliya Oruwari
27 February, 2020

There is much media interest in the Duke and Duchess and Sussex. Having close family members emigrate and the many issues that can arise as a result, are not reserved to the royal family. One of the most common issues that their relationship, and recent relocation, has highlighted is the rights of grandparents to have a relationship and spend time with their grandchildren.

Meghan’s father, Mr Thomas Markle, has expressed his desire to be involved in his grandson’s life, but due to being estranged from his daughter, Meghan, he has not yet met Archie. The Sussex’s intention to reside primarily in Canada will significantly affect the level of contact that the Queen and Prince Charles have with their great grandson and grandson.  This is a situation that will not be unfamiliar to many grandparents who face the prospect of limited or no contact with their grandchildren for any number of reasons, such as their children’s divorce or separation, conflict and the breakdown of family relationships, or distance. 

So, what is the law concerning grandparent contact?

In England and Wales, Grandparents do not automatically have the right to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives. However, the courts do acknowledge that grandparents have an important role to play in the upbringing of children and that contact with a grandparent may be beneficial for children. 

In the absence of an agreement with the parent with whom the child ordinarily lives, an application will have to be made to the court for permission to make an application for contact.

However, before making an application for contact, the grandparent will first have to attend mediation in an attempt to negotiate matters without the Court’s intervention. In mediation, an independent person assists the parties to reach an agreement, where possible. It is only if mediation is unsuccessful that an application to the Court for contact can be made. 

It is always best to try to agree matters with the parent/s as far as is possible. Court should be a last resort as it can have a negative impact on the family relationships.  However, for some it will not be possible to avoid progressing beyond mediation.

The Court’s primary consideration will be the welfare of the child. The Court will also consider the connection between the grandparent and the grandchild, the nature of the application and whether the contact would cause any harm to the child.  It is therefore only in very extreme circumstances that the Court would refuse a grandparent’s application.

If direct contact is not possible, because distance is an issue or contact direct contact is denied, a grandparent can have indirect contact with their grandchild/ren to maintain the relationship. This could be through telephone contact, video calling, email and or letters.

If you have any questions about this article, a member of our family team will be happy to discuss them.

Loliya Oruwari is a Solicitor working in the Family Department and specialises in all aspects of Family and Children Law.

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