10 Things Grandparents Need To Know if Their Child is Getting a Divorce

Please note the information and opinions provided are for information purposes only. They are not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice, and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular or individual circumstances.

Many grandparents play active roles in the upbringing of their grandchildren, see them and often care for them on a regular basis; others have a more relaxed relationship. Either way, it will still be a significant and important relationship for both the child and his or her grandparents.

When your son or daughter decides they want to get divorced, as grandparents you will inevitably want to ensure minimum disruption to your grandchildren, to ensure they remain safe and happy, and to ensure that your relationship with your grandchildren is maintained.

  1. Your son or daughter will need to make arrangements in respect of what will happen to their finances and their children when they divorce their spouse. Putting the financial issues aside (for more information in respect of finances please refer to the Fact Sheet concerning financial issues), decisions to be made will include:
    • Primarily, with whom will the children will live
    • When will the children spend time with the parent with whom they do not live
    • When will the children spend time with extended family members, including their grandparents
    • How will they make decisions as separated parents, in respect of schools, religion and later higher education, travel etc.
  2. Whilst Parents do not lose parental responsibility if they divorce it is important to be aware that your son or daughter may not have Parental Responsibility for their children; it is not always automatic. If your son or daughter does not have Parental Responsibility for their children, they may gain Parental Responsibility by reaching a Parental Responsibility Agreement with all other holders of Parental Responsibility, or by making an application to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order (please see our Parental Responsibility Fact Sheet for more detailed information).
  3. Grandparents cannot gain Parental Responsibility for their grandchildren by virtue of applying for a Parental Responsibility Order.
  4. Your son or daughter and their spouse (with Parental Responsibility) are responsible, in a legal sense, for making decisions about what is best for their children, and unfortunately grandparents do not have any, what one may term ‘rights’ to see their grandchildren. That said, in circumstances where arrangements cannot be resolved, there is provision to make an application to the court, and the law recognises the relationship between a grandparent and their grandchild.
  5. If your son or daughter is unable to reach an agreement with their spouse about the arrangements for your grandchild’s care upon divorce, they may apply to the Court for an order in respect of the arrangements for where your grandchild should live and what time they should spend with their other parent. This is known as an application for a Child Arrangements Order.
  6. Grandparents are not automatically parties to court proceedings concerning their grandchildren, however, grandparents may apply to the Court to be joined as parties to existing proceedings concerning their grandchildren.
  7. Where there are no existing proceedings, grandparents seeking to apply to the Court for an order in respect of with whom their grandchild should live, or in relation to the time they spend (previously called contact) with their grandchild, require permission of the court unless the child has been living with them for one year immediately preceding the application (or for three years out of the past 5 years). The application for permission can be made along with the application for the order.
  8. Some grandparents care for their grandchildren for lengthy periods, and in some circumstances they are primary carers. With permission from the court grandparents may apply for a Child Arrangements Order providing for their grandchild to live with them, and spend such time with their parents as is considered to be in the child’s interests.
  9. For grandparents caring for their grandchildren most of the time there is the possibility of applying for a Special Guardianship Order which grants the holder Parental Responsibility to the exclusion of the other holders of Parental Responsibility. It is therefore more draconian than an order a child live with their grandparents but in addition is more stable. Grandparents will usually require the permission of the court before making an application, unless the child has lived with them for one year (or three years out of five years) before making the application and other limited circumstances.
  10. Since April 2014 any person applying to the family court for an order to regulate the arrangements for a child is required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to demonstrate to the court that prior to starting proceedings they have considered Mediation. There are some exceptions to attending a MIAM and this is something your solicitor will be able to discuss with you, as well as assisting you with finding a mediator.

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