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Ask The Legal Expert: Grandparents Rights

View profile for Matthew Wells
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This month Matthew Wells, an Associate Solicitor who specialises in divorce, financial disputes and cohabitation agreements, advises a grandparent on providing a legally secure home for her granddaughter.

"My granddaughter has been living with me for the last year. Her parents have agreed to this arrangement since they have a chaotic lifestyle and drug addictions. I’m keen to make the arrangement more secure. What are my options?"

It is important that your granddaughter’s parents’ chaotic lifestyle do not prevent you from providing your granddaughter with a secure home environment and from making important decisions regarding her upbringing.

One option open to you is to apply for a Child Arrangement Order (previously known as a Residence Order).

This would see you acquire shared parental and decision-making responsibility for the child along with her birth parents. So you would need to consult them on all decisions concerning your granddaughter’s upbringing.

In practice this could prove difficult because of the birth parents’ erratic lifestyle.  Therefore, it would be wise to consider applying to the Court for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO).

An SGO would give you elevated parental responsibility, so you would be in charge of bringing up your granddaughter and, in the event of any conflict with the birth parents regarding your granddaughter’s upbringing, your decisions would take precedence over theirs. For example, an SGO would enable you to take your granddaughter on holiday abroad without their consent.

An SGO would give your granddaughter a legally secure placement until her 18th birthday but, unlike adoption, the Order would not sever the important legal relationship between the child and her birth parents.

You are eligible to apply for an SGO because you are a relative and your granddaughter has lived with you for at least a year immediately preceding the application.

The process involves a number of important steps from you, including; a compulsory Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM), supplying three months’ written notice of your intention to apply for an SGO to your Local Authority, an investigation by them and a report to the Court on your suitability to be a special Guardian, and a meeting with a Social Worker to discuss the child’s contact arrangements with her birth parents and other issues.

In the Special Guardianship Order Report, the Local Authority will outline what support services will be available to you.

When considering whether to make an SGO, your granddaughter’s welfare will be the Court’s paramount consideration.

I have outlined your primary options in this column but it is important that you get detailed legal advice from a specialist family lawyer to explore these more fully.

Matthew Wells has a real passion for Family Law. He has developed a reputation for “a down to earth” approach to problem solving and obtains both advantageous and sensible outcomes for his clients. He is a robust advocate, hard-working and approachable. Matthew is a member of Resolution, an organisation for professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes.

The question posed in this blog is based on a hypothetical situation.

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