The status of grandparents in the British Isles, legally speaking, is quite similar to the situation in the United States. Grandparents have no legal right of access to their grandchildren and must petition for contact. The situation is complicated because most of the countries located on the the British Isles have their own legal systems; however, it can hardly be considered more complicated than the situation in the United States, where each state has its own statutes.
Some laws apply across... all of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), but the English law followed by England and Wales can be substantially different from the Scots law in force in Scotland and the law of Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom and has its own legal system.
In 2011, UK grandparents had their hopes raised by the Family Justice Review, which considered whether grandparents should be included in the divorce and separation agreements of their children, making it less likely that they would lose contact with grandchildren. That proposal never became a reality, however.
In UK law, the section dealing with grandparents' rights is the Family Reform Act 1987, Schedule 1, Section 14A.
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In England and Wales
Grandparents have no special right to see their grandchildren in England and Wales but can ask for contact just like any other interested party. Winning contact through the court system is at best a two-step process. The first step is to ask for leave from the court. In other words, grandparents must ask the court for permission to petition. If this first step is successfully negotiated, then grandparents must ask for a contact order. Contact orders specify direct or indirect contact. Indirect... contact includes such measures as phone calls, letters and virtual visitation. The court will consider what type of contact is being requested, what connection the grandparent has with the child and whether such contact could be detrimental to the child. If one or both parents oppose the contact order, a full hearing must be held.
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While some laws have validity throughout the United Kingdom, Scots law differs from English law in many areas. The field of grandparents' rights is one of those areas, and Scotland is often considered to be more hospitable to grandparents' rights than the other countries of the UK. For one thing, the courts do not have to grant leave for a suit. Still, in Scotland as in the other countries of the UK, no grandparent has an automatic right to contact. Instead, three criteria govern whether... grandparents can be awarded visitation. The first is the best interest of the child. That concern is paramount to all others. The second concern is the rule of minimum intervention, which means that citizens should not ask the courts to step in if a situation is workable without legal measures. The third consideration is the will of the child, should the child be old enough to express an opinion. The Scottish government does spell out its position on the role of grandparents in a document called Family Matters: Charter for Grandchildren.
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In Ireland, The Children's Act of 1997 provides a process for individuals to petition for contact with a child. Grandparents are not specifically mentioned. Instead the law is specified as being for relatives and for anyone who has acted as a parent to a child. As in England and Wales, the first step is to ask for leave to make the application. The court will consider the applicant's connection with the child, any disruption or other harm that might result from the contact and the wishes... of the child's guardians. The court has the right to specify the terms and conditions of the contact. Read the complete citation in the Irish Statute Book.
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In Northern Ireland
The family law system in Northern Ireland generally parallels that of England and Wales. Thus, the law allows interested parties to request a contact order, but enforcement of such orders is said to be problematic. Mediation is often suggested as an alternative to legal action. Also, the right of a child to be heard is considered fundamental.