FREE CHAPTER from ‘A Practical Guide to the Rights of Grandparents in Children Proceedings’ by Stuart Barlow



  1. The need to acquire Parental Responsibility. This is where there is a need to acquire parental responsibility. It could be that the grandchild has been living with the grandparent for some time and the grandparent feels powerless to make important decisions on behalf of the child. For example, there has been a visit to a hospital and the hospital has queried the grandparents right to make a decision for the grandchild; In B v B (A Minor) (Residence order [1992] 2 FLR 327 a grandmother applied to the Magistrates Court for a residence order in respect of her granddaughter who had lived with her for some time to enable her to have parental responsibility. Her application was supported by the mother. The application was refused on the “no order principle”, Section 1(5) Children Act 1989. This decision was overturned on appeal stating that a residence order should be granted where there was a need to acquire parental responsibility.

  2. When Parents Divorce or Separate. This is where the parents separate and the grandparent has been refused any contact with the grandchild or for some other reason they lose contact with them. Research has shown that when parents separate around 42 per cent of grandparents lose contact with their grandchildren.

  3. When the parents refuse the grandparent any contact with their children. It could be there has been a falling-out between the adults within the family, and the grandchildren are caught up in the dispute. The end result is that the parents refuse the grandparent any ongoing relationship with their children.

  4. Involvement of Social Services. This is when an application comes before the court as a result of Social Services becoming involved with the family. The parents may be unable to care for their children safely and Social Services look to the grandparents to care for the children, maybe in the short term or even long term.

Grandparents and relatives

Grandparents and other relatives may make court applications regarding their grandchildren. Grandparents applying for contact is common. Applications for other orders e.g. to enable the grandchild to reside with the grandparent will also arise from time to time.

Thorpe J in Re J (Leave to issue application for residence order (2003) 1 FLR 114 suggested that trial judges should recognise the greater appreciation that has developed of the value of what grandparents have to offer their grandchildren, particularly those who have disabled parents.

Informal Arrangements

Informal care arrangements can often take place where relatives look after a child but they have no parental responsibility and the child is not a ‘looked after’ child by the Local Authority. Informal arrangements are made between the parent of the child and the relative concerned in caring for the child. Sometimes there is no clear agreement and the terms of placement are undefined. As the carer has no parental responsibility for the child in question, the carer is powerless in making major decisions, such as medical treatment, schooling and travel abroad. Parents can end the arrangement at any time and without notice. Grandparents can be put in this position and have no immediate recourse to any principle in law. The grandparent may wish to apply to the court for an order that would give them parental responsibility and at the same time confirm the residence position for the child.