How Can I Get Access to My Grandchild?
One of the most regretful and upsetting aspects of divorce is the separation of grandchildren from their grandparents. Grandparents can play a significant role in helping children maintain a semblance of connection with their family and support them through what is an extremely tough time emotionally. With over five million grandparents taking on childcare responsibilities, the importance of maintaining a connection between grandparents and grandchildren is greater than ever. In this article, we will discuss what you can do if you have become separated from your grandchildren following separation, divorce or dissolution.
Do I have a right to see my grandchildren?
Unfortunately, in the UK, grandparents do not have an automatic right to have access to their grandchildren after parents divorce. There are a number of possible ways that you can gain access to your grandchildren, however, under the Children’s Act 1989 (CA 1989),. Section 8 of the CA 1989 provides three primary ways for grandparents to see their grandchildren (referred to as “section 8 orders”):
Child arrangement orders
Prohibited steps orders
Specific issue orders.
Each order has a slightly different purpose and legal mechanism, as outlined in the sections below.
What is a Child Arrangement Order (CAO)?
Previously called “residence orders” and “contact orders”, grandparents can apply to the family court for a CAO under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, setting out with whom and when they should live, spend time, or have contact. A grandparent of a child can apply for a CAO as long as the child has lived with them for at least one year immediately preceding the application. If your grandchild has not been living with you for a year, you may still be able to apply for a CAO, but you will need permission from the court before doing so. The court will make its decision based on the nature of the application, your connection to the child, and any risks of disruption to the child’s life.
What is a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO)?
If, as a grandparent, you feel there is a need to prevent the parent/s of your grandchild from taking certain actions (e.g. taking them out of the country to live), you may be able to apply to the family court for a PSO. The courts may grant a PSO to prevent a parent or someone with parental responsibility from taking certain actions that could be detrimental to the child.
What are Specific Issue Orders (SIOs)?
An SIO differs from a CAO and PSO in that it is used to make certain decisions about how a child should be raised, e.g. schooling and medical care. A SIO can be issued in conjunction with a CAO or entirely separately. When making a decision on an SIO, the courts take into account the wishes and feelings of the child, their needs (physically, emotionally and educationally), whether those with parental responsibility are capable of meeting the needs of the child, and the risk of potential harm.
Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAM)
In most cases, you will need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying for a Section 8 order. This is a meeting to determine if the matter of gaining access to your grandchild/ren can be resolved through mediation matters outside the court system. If mediation is deemed unsuitable or ineffective, you can then apply to the court for a Section 8 order.
Can I Become a Special Guardian for My Grandchild?
Super guardianship gives a person parental responsibility (PR) for a child until they reach the age of 18. The reason that this is called “super” guardianship is that the PR given is granted to the exclusion of any other person with PR, except for another special guardian. As such, special guardians can make important decisions regarding the child’s care (e.g. schooling and medical care) that override the decisions and wishes of the child’s parents or a person holding a CAO.
To apply for an SGO as a grandparent without first gaining permission from the court, you must:
Be a relative with whom the child has been living for at least one year
Already be the child’s legal guardian
Have a CAO/residence order in your favour in respect of the child
Have had the child living with you for at least three years (this does not need to be continuous but must not have begun more than five years before)
Have the permission of the local authority if the child is in their care or
Have the consent of anyone with PR for the child.