Maintaining Family Bonds: Grandparents Rights in Divorce

When a couple gets divorced, there are inevitable repercussions for wider family members. This is especially true if the parting couple has children. Often, relatives such as grandparents can be caught up in the challenges and emotions that surround a divorce. Alongside trying to support their own adult children through the process, they can find themselves not seeing their grandchildren or young relatives as much as before. This can cause a great deal of distress and confusion.

Of course, the best possible solution if for all parties to agree on visiting and contact routines and to work together to maintain healthy relationships on both sides of the family. When this doesn’t happen, there are a number of ways in which a family lawyer can help smooth the way for future contact agreements.

Grandparents’ Rights?

Currently, grandparents do not have automatic rights to stay in contact with their grandchildren in the event of their children getting divorced or splitting up from their partner. This is because they are not legally recognised as having parental responsibility. Grandparents and other relatives are also not automatically allowed to apply for a Child Arrangement Order (CAO). CAOs have replaced residence orders and are designed to protect children from any inappropriate influence or interference from unscrupulous family members.

Applying for a CAO

If, however, a grandparent genuinely believes that it is in the children’s best interests for them to remain in contact, they can seek permission to apply for a CAO. This could be in a situation where grandparents have provided significant amounts of child care, emotional support or a long-term home for the children. It is also relevant in cases involving custody for grandparents. Each case is considered carefully, and in its own merit to ensure that the right decision is made for the welfare of children involved.

If the grandparents’ application for a CAO is contested by the parents or other interested parties, the court can call for a hearing to take place. This is where evidence is heard from both sides and a decision made by the court. It is highly recommended for grandparents wishing to go down this route to seek specialist legal advice. Court hearings can, however, be costly and upsetting. If at all possible, CAO disputes should be resolved away from the court in mediation sessions.

Custody and Visitation Rights

Some situations could involve custody for grandparents if there is a belief that children would be better off living with their grandparents rather than either of their own parents. A court must give its permission for grandparents to seek custody of a grandchild, in the same way as it does for applying for a CAO. Grandparents must be able to provide a valid reason for the application that puts the children’s welfare first, rather than their own feelings. An example could be in the event of both parents suffering from poor health that precludes them from being able to care for the child properly.

Regarding grandparents’ rights around visitation, this is normally something that is worked out by the separating parents, who make their own arrangements for the children to see wider family during their time with them. However, it can happen that a parent is not allowed access to their child, but that the grandparent is allowed to make a CAO application to continue to receive visits and/or have contact. Again, this is something that a court must deal with on an individual basis, always considering the needs of the children ahead of anything else.


For families facing issues around grandparents’ rights and expectations following their own children’s divorce or separation, mediation sessions can help to resolve matters in a calm and mutually respectful way. They can help keep cases out of the courts and speed up decisions to help everyone move forward with their new living situations. A family solicitor can recommend a mediator to facilitate discussions and help move matters to a mutually acceptable conclusion.

Often, issues around grandparents’ rights and requests for contact are surrounded by high emotions, arguments and hurt. Having a neutral third-party lead discussions can remove much of the tension and help everyone work out an appropriate way forward that keeps everyone safe. Mediation can help ensure that the level of contact is right for both the children and their wider family.

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