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What are Grandparents rights following Divorce?

Access Denied: The Heartbreak of Estrangement

In Northern Ireland, grandparents do not have an automatic right to see and spend time with their grandchildren.  Unfortunately, following a relationship breakdown, grandparents often find themselves excluded from their grandchildren’s lives.  

For grandparents estranged from their grandchildren, it can be heart-breaking and feel hopeless, but know that there are options to use tools such as mediation to help resolve disagreements with parents and in some cases, the family courts can intervene- and our Family Law team can help guide and support you throughout this process.

Associate Shannon McLorie on our Family Law team is an expert in this area of Child Law and has supported many families in successfully resolving issues, helping them to reunite. Shannon outlines her advice and answers some of the initial questions she is asked by her clients.

What rights do grandparents have to see their grandchildren?

Grandparents do not have automatic rights; however, they can make an application to the Family Courts for a Contact Order. 

What can you do when you cannot see your grandchildren?

Seek legal advice as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances, mediation may be a suitable and successful option. Mediation requires the consent and willingness of all parties. If mediation is not an option, a Court application may be required. 

How do I gain access to my grandchildren, even when my child doesn’t have access?

It is uncommon for Grandparents to continue having contact even when their son/daughter is not. The same remedies are available however it is entirely circumstantial.  The Court may take the view that a grandparent’s contact is secondary to parental contact. This is not an outright bar however, the burden is on the grandparents to demonstrate why they should be having contact outside of parental contact. 

Can grandparents go to court for access?

In most cases, yes.  To commence proceedings, Grandparents firstly require the permission of the Court when applying for the Contact Order, this is called the ‘leave’ of the Court.  Grandparents should consider this a two-stage process. Please note no permission/leave is required if the child has resided with the person making the application for a specified period in advance of the application. 

What do the Courts consider?  When considering a leave application, the Court will consider a number of factors, to include an already established relationship and connection with the child, the nature of the application and whether the child may suffer harm by the application being before the Court.

If the Court grants permission, the Grandparents are then entitled to make their application for a Contact Order. 

The Courts main concern is always the welfare of the child and if it is in the child’s best interest to have contact.

Can grandparents get visitation rights internationally?   

If grandparents live outside of Northern Ireland, they can still make an application to the Court for contact with children residing in Northern Ireland- and vice versa. This could be both direct and indirect contact, for example, telephone/video calls, cards and letters. 

Can a grandparent apply for guardianship / adopt?   

Depending on the circumstances, a Grandparent can apply for parental rights for their grandchildren. This type of application commonly occurs whenever the children cannot live with their parents and/or their parents are unable to exercise their parental rights. It is extremely rare for grandparents to seek to adopt their grandchildren, an application for guardianship/parental rights is normally the preference. 

Can Social Services help grandparents?  

Where children are unable to live with their parents, social services will look into placing children with family members. This is referred to as a kinship placement. Social Services will be heavily involved and will assist all parties with the transition. 

Get in touch

If you need advice or have any questions on Family matters, get in touch with Shannon and our expert team and we’ll guide you forward.

Get in touch

To find out more about how we can help you with your query, please contact us.