Grandparents and grandchildren – your rights explained
Grandparents play an important role in their grandchild’s life. However, some grandparents have difficulty seeing their grandchildren and spending time with them. They can find themselves excluded from the lives of their grandchildren, and this can be very upsetting for them and for the children involved. This can happen for many reasons, for example, if the relationship between the grandparent and parent has broken down.
Grandparents do not have automatic rights in relation to their grandchildren, but there are steps you can take to improve your level of contact with them.
How do I request more time with my grandchildren?
You should first speak to the child’s parents or guardians. Negotiation should be explored, to try and come to an arrangement so that you can spend time with your grandchildren.
If no agreement can be reached, you should consider family mediation. This is where a trained independent professional, called a mediator, helps you and the parents come to an agreement in a safe space. Mediation addresses the needs and interests of everyone involved.
Mediation can have better long-term effects on the family as a whole, as both sides take ownership of the arrangement they come to. The process is much less confrontational than the matter being dealt with in court.
If mediation is not successful, you can apply to the court for access to your grandchildren.
In certain situations, you can apply for custody or guardianship. Read about access, custody, and guardianship below.
Applying for access to a grandchild
If you are having difficulty maintaining contact with your grandchildren, you can apply for access through your local District Court. Access means you will have a legal right to direct contact with the child, which may include overnight stays (sleepovers).
Before granting your application, the court will consider:
- Your existing connection with the child
- Any risk of harmful disruption to the child's life
- The wishes of the child’s parents or guardians
- The wishes of the child if they are capable of forming their own views
To make an application for access, you must complete a form called Form 58.19 and submit it to the court. You can download Form 58.19 from Courts.ie.
The court will always put your grandchild’s needs first. The child’s best interests are set out in Section 63 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. Meanwhile, the rules about access are set out in Section 11B of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, as amended.
You should get professional legal advice before making an application. See ‘Getting legal advice and other supports’ below, or visit our page on access to children.
Applying for custody of a grandchild
If you have custody of a child, you are responsible for their day-to-day care, accommodation and upbringing.
Any relative, including a grandparent, can apply to their local District Court for custody of a child.
Usually, the court will only grant you custody if it has the parents’ or guardians’ consent. However, the court can dispense with the consent (decide that the parents’ consent is not needed) if a custody order is in the child’s best interests.
If you are granted custody of your grandchild and they are to live with you, the court can specify (give you details) of the contact, if any, that the child must have with their parent(s).
You should get professional legal advice before making an application for custody. See ‘Getting legal advice and other supports’ below. You can also find more information in our page custody of a child.
Getting financial support
If you (the grandparent) are the main carer of the child, and the child is not being properly maintained financially by either or both parents, you can apply to the District Court for a maintenance order. This means that, if the court grants your application, the parent(s) must give you money towards the care of the child.
Becoming a guardian of a grandchild
Guardianship means you have legally responsibility for certain decisions and to carry out duties in relation to a child's upbringing. For example, decisions about their medical or dental treatment, or their religious or cultural upbringing.
As a grandparent, you can apply to your local District Court for guardianship if:
- You have provided the day-to-day care of the child for at least 12 months in a row and
- There is no parent or guardian willing (or able) to carry out guardianship responsibilities in respect of the child
You can also apply for guardianship if the child’s parents die without appointing a guardian in their will.
A person can apply for guardianship up until a child reaches 18 years of age.
To apply for guardianship, you must complete a form called a ‘Notice of application by an eligible person to be appointed a guardian’. This form, which is sometimes called a Form 58.30, can be submitted to your local District Court. Download the ‘Notice Of Application’ (docx) from Courts.ie.
You should get professional legal advice before making an application. See ‘Getting legal advice and other supports’ below.
Your guardianship duties
The court will decide the extent of your guardianship rights and responsibilities. You may have the same duties as the child’s parents, or only certain duties.
The court can also remove your guardianship rights at a later date if it is in the child’s best interests.
A parent can nominate you to act as a temporary guardian of their child if they are unable to carry out their own guardianship duties – for example, if they become seriously ill or injured.
The parent must complete a special form (pdf) to nominate you and they can set out any wishes they have regarding the temporary guardianship.
You (the nominated person) must then apply to the District Court if the parent cannot carry out their parental role due to illness or injury. Your specific rights as a temporary guardian will explained in the court order. This is usually the same as the parent’s wishes, as set out in their nomination form.
I was granted access or custody, but still cannot see my grandchild
If you already have an access order or a custody order from the court, but you are still not getting contact with your grandchild, you can seek an enforcement order from the court.
An enforcement order is a further legal instruction to the parents or guardians that they must allow you to see your grandchild, at the specific times set out in the order. The enforcement order may allow additional access to compensate for lost time, reimbursement for any wasted expenses or require those involved to attend a parenting programmes or counselling.
If the parents or guardians refuse to comply with an access or custody order, they can be fined up to €2,500, go to prison for up to 12 months, or both.
To apply for an enforcement order, you must send a completed Form 58.43 (docx), to your local District Court.
I was granted access or custody, but my circumstances have changed
The terms set out in your access order or custody order do not have to last forever.
If your circumstances change, you can apply to the court for a variation order. This means the court will update some (or all) aspects of the access or custody order. You can also ask the court to cancel the original access or custody order altogether.
To apply for a variation order, you must send a completed Form 58.21 (docx) to your local District Court.
Appealing the court’s decision
The District Court makes decisions about access, custody and guardianship applications based on the child’s best interests.
If you are not satisfied with the court’s decision, you can make an appeal within 14 days of the decision being made.
To make an appeal, you must complete a form called a ‘Notice of Appeal to District Court’. This form, which is sometimes called a Form 101.1, lets you explain your reasons for appeal. Download the ‘Notice Of Appeal to Circuit Court’ (docx) from Courts.ie.
You should get professional legal advice before making an appeal. See ‘Getting legal advice and other supports’ below.
Getting legal advice and other supports
It is important to get professional legal advice before going to court.
Hiring a solicitor
Solicitors' fees can vary considerably so shop around and get some quotes before deciding who to use. Find contact details for solicitors on the Law Society website.
Getting legal aid
You can also contact your nearest law centre for information on Legal Aid. If you are eligible for legal aid and advice from the Legal Aid Board, you generally will have to pay a contribution towards the costs.
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres)
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all.
Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area. FLAC also runs an ‘information and referral’ line during office hours for basic legal information.
Other supports for grandparents
You can find more information on grandparents' rights on the Treoir website.
Treoir also has a booklet called Being there for them (pdf) for grandparents of children whose parents are not married to each other.
Private family mediation
Private family mediation services are available throughout the country. Private mediators charge in a variety of ways, including daily rates, hourly rates and flat rates. Shop around to find a service that suits your budget.
You can contact the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland, or visit their website, for a list of approved and accredited mediators in your area.
Free mediation services
The Family Mediation Service is a free service provided by the Legal Aid Board.
To make an appointment, both parties (for example, you and the child’s parents) must contact the service and confirm you are willing to attend.
There can be waiting lists for this service.