New legal rights for grandparents?

Children|October 27th 2009

Many grandparents are surprised to discover that they do not have automatic rights of residence or contact with their grandchildren. But could their rights be about to improve?

This week it is my turn not to criticise, but to praise the Conservative Party. Newspapers have reported that the Conservatives, if they win the next election, intend to give new, improved legal rights to millions of grandparents in England and Wales.

According to the Daily Mail:

The law will be changed to ensure [grandparents] do not lose contact with their grandchildren after a family separation, divorce or bereavement.

They will also be put at the front of the custody queue if their grandchildren face being fostered or taken into care. 

As it happens, I am currently advising the research team at one of Britain’s best-loved soaps on this same subject. The storyline is top secret though! I have had lengthy discussions with the researchers about current law; they were incredulous to discover that the blood relationship between a child and a grandparent means nothing in law.

If grandparents want automatic access to their children or if, as in more extreme cases, they want their grandchildren to live with them, they must jump through two sets of legal hoops. First, they must obtain leave of the court to make their application. If successful, only then may they apply for an order.

Given the state of current law, many hapless grandchildren become caught up in a tug of war. So in practice, although grandparents may apply to the court for an order, the potential impact on their grandchildren and the non-recoverable cost of applying to the courts means that in many cases, the grandparents simply give up.

Current law states that the welfare of the children is paramount. Therefore the court must look at the situation from that perspective. And in so doing the root of the problem becomes immediately clear.

I have spoken to many grandparents who all appear to have made the same mistake. They can’t help themselves. It’s natural because blood is thicker than water. They side with their own child against the spouse, often to prevent their own money passing out of the family. They become too emotionally involved in the divorce, feeling their child’s pain of their child; they worry too much; they become distressed. Worst of all, unable to prevent themselves, they speak badly of their former son or daughter-in-law to their grandchildren. Inevitably the grandchildren repeat those comments – and thus at some stage, another battle begins.

I have lost count of the emotional and agitated grandparents who come to my office and sit with their son or daughter, throwing petrol on the fire. They think they are helping their child; in fact they are causing substantial harm to themselves.

My advice?  Don’t go near the lawyer’s office!

If your child was old enough to get married and have a family without parental help, then that child is old enough to get divorced without your help. There is little you can do, and you need to keep calm.

“Ah yes”, you will reply, “but parents are parents all their lives! How can they stop being parents? Their first loyalty is to their child.”

That is true: I tell my son that I will always be his mum through thick and thin. But parenting skills don’t stop when a child becomes an adult. Standing back from the fray and offering wise counsel to all is infinitely better than diving in headfirst.

Of course, money can complicate matter. It can make people – grandparents included – lose their senses.

I was involved in one recent case in which the husband and his father combined forces to defeat the wife’s claims. The husband pleaded poverty; all his assets were acquired in his father’s name. No surprise then that his children refused to have anything to do with the paternal grandparents who, in their view, had betrayed their impoverished mother.

The children were old enough to instruct the judge when the grandparents attempted, fruitlessly, to renew contact. These grandchildren never want to see their grandparents again.

I have had some clients who have praised their in-laws. It must be said, however, that the vast majority have not. The simple truth, I suspect, is that nobody is perfect. We reap what we sow.

Even if your grown-up children are just finding their potential partners, I recommend that you bite your lip and hold your tongue. You can never know how long someone will hold a grudge for. You don’t ever want to find out. Neither do your grandchildren.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Tracey Page says:

    What if CPS is involved? And they removed my grandchildren from my daughter’s house? Do I still bite my tongue? I have been active in my grandchildren’s life since birth. Now I am removed because I am trying to protect them.

  2. Ashley Groome says:


    My Name is Ashley Groome – I’m also known as UBG43, the chap who shot the photo at the top of your article.

    I am delighted to see the image is being put to such good use.

    Very best wishes.

    Ashley Groome – Melbourne Australia.

  3. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Thanks very much Ashley – it’s lovely.

    Maybe we will meet next year at the MCG?!
    (When we beat you)



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    […] New legal rights for grandparents? […]

  5. julie says:

    we are grandparents to two boys one we had lots of contact one we have only seen twice .there mother stopped the contact a year ago because we smoke and always have but we do not smoke near are grand children or any other child she uses this every time when it suits at christmas and there birthdays.we no our grandson keeps asking to come to our home but she tells him he cant because we smoke. but like most grandparents we havent got the money to do anything about it .

  6. Gemma says:

    Hi I need some help,
    I had a baby 9months ago and my partner’s mum has been in and out of his life 4 times already we’ve had another fall out and she had the choice to see my son and she told us she was walking away as she thought her son was making a mistake marry me so we felt it at that. Now after 2 months she wants to start seeing him again I said I’d give her 1 more chance but I wanted to meet first to talk this though so this would not happen again but she said she has rights n take me to court… Do u no if she has rights ?? I’m sick of been heartbroken every time she in n out he’s our son n we just want the best… Thanks Gemma x

  7. Dawn Whitton says:

    I am 53 yrs old and my husband 62…our my son became a dad at 16 to a 15yr old….he is now 19 and the relationship broke down due to faults on both sides. Our grandson is 15months old and his mother will no longer allow us to have contact with him even tho we have had him every weekend for the past 4 months. Our son is suposed to see his boy every saturday afternoon as per an order made at the family court but his ex girlfriend has repeatedly breached the order and they are due back in front of the judge next month.
    Is it worth us taking her to court for access. Our grandson is known to social services who have concerns re his well being……the social worker has suggested we go to court! Obviously, cost is something we must consider.
    Any advice would be great!

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Dawn
      This is a very tough one. You can certainly apply to the court for contact, you will need the permission of the court first but its usually not a problem. You dont necessarily need a solicitor to represent you but you have to be realistic about what order the court would make in relation to a 15 month old baby especially if the mother wont cooperate.
      The real issue, and one thats being experienced, is that if the mother wont cooperate, court orders are very difficult to enforce and you will have had a phyrric victory. If you can resolve the root problem, namely why this mother is so obstructive, and what her problems are, then you have a much better chance of success. I think in cases like this, the give will have to be much more on your side than hers. If you can do that, really do it, then your grandson will get to know his grandparents.
      Best wishes

  8. Sally says:

    im a mother of a four year old im still with his dad and me and my son went to live with my mum when social services were invovled they closed the case, then 5 months later the case was reopened by my mum making allegations of abuse against me and me and my son moved out my mum and family members want my son do they have rights to take my son

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Sally
      The local authority must always act in the interests of the child which is their sole concern. You should take legal advice immediately.

  9. sheila says:

    hi my daughter has recently stopped me and my husband from seeing our 6 year old granddaughter for no other reason but we spoil her and she says she plays up when she goes home, we used to have her every weekend from when she was 7 weeks old then it went to every fortnight. my daughter has a new boyfriend and we think this is why she has stooped us from any contact. do we have any rights.

  10. Lukey says:

    I can’t believe this subject is still live, it’s lovely if grandparents are in children’s lives (usually) but it is up to the parents – one of them is the parent with custody and the other is the non-custody parent – that is enough to get agreement on regarding visitation etc. It can take over a year to get everything settled as it is. Parents are the people who are responsible for the children, emotionally and financially.

    If there is not agreement from the parents on grandparents seeing the children then that should be the end of the matter. Where does it end? How is a valid grandparent defined and who defines it ?

    All I can see is more litigation, stress and heartache, good for lawyers but nobody else.

  11. Maria says:

    Please help. My daughter and I no longer have a relationship due to her and her grandmother covering up the fact my youngest daughter was abused sexually as a child off my father, they basically called her a liar and its caused no end of problems. My mother has never cared much for my youngest and the favouritism shown to my eldest has just got too much. My father died before i could report this, so i cant really do anything now, other than fully support my youngest now 20.
    My eldest (now 25) has now spitefully informed me she is pregnant but i will never be able to see this child. I dont understand why she would inform me and then cruely say i will never be able to see the baby.
    Do i really have no rights? This is breaking my heart, she only lives round the corner. Please advise me. Thanks

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Maria
      Legally you may apply for permission to see your grandchildren and for a contact order to be made. It won’t mend the hurt in this family so I would also recommend specialist counselling for all of you if that’s possible.

  12. Sue says:

    Our 3 year old granddaughter is now living with her dad after he and our daughter split up. Previously our granddaughter lived with us for 6 months and now we are told we can only see her under his supervision and at his parents home.
    The reasoning is that we will in effect ‘kidnap’ her. Both parents are on the birth certificate and he is applying for residency even though our little daring has been enrolled in the local school etc for September.
    The parents are in mediation at the moment but it all feels very upsetting and without legal aid my daughter can’t take this to court at the moment. Do you have any advise please?

  13. jane skinner says:

    Hi have I got any rights to apply for access to my grandchild and how and who do I apply for this

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