top of page


To help all of us to better understand a complex set of family dynamics, we have initially identified six typologies of estranged and alienated grandchildren and their grandparents. These are:


  1. grandchildren with a deceased parent with that grandparent lost as remaining parent ‘moves on’ 

  2. grandchildren with separated parents introducing estrangement or alienation of (generally) the non-resident parent's parents

  3. grandchildren with parental mental health problems 

  4. grandchildren with a difficult parent/in-law-grandparent relationship, either high-conflict or dispute

  5. grandchildren who have never met their grandparent or only in infancy, either due to a sibling being prevented from grandparent contact or because their parent and grandparent were already estranged prior to birth

  6. grandchildren whose grandparent is subject to elder abuse by their parent e.g. a grandparent seeing their grandchild is conditional on lending parents money 


In all cases except the first, the grandchildren are weaponised in relation to the grandparent. 


The effects on both grandchild and grandparent however, regardless of typology, are known to have significant and long-term health and wellbeing impacts for both parties from the loss and grief that follows the forced cessation of their relationship. 

  • The grandchild often bears a significant and solitary burden from missing their grandparent, finding themselves not able to speak about their grandparent in front of their parent for fear of facing anger. 

  • No child bereavement services offer support for this type of 'living bereavement'. 

  • Schools generally do not have access to resources or supportive loss management processes despite a grandchild often disclosing their grief or manifesting it via act-out or withdrawal behaviours in the school setting. 


Generally, as adults grandparents can access informal peer support via a network of online and in-person support groups. Or, if means allow, access counselling, therapy and legal advice. Through these, we understand that grandparents develop anxiety problems following the grief and loss experience, with older grandparents concerned that 'time is running out' for them to re-establish their relationship with their grandchild. 

grandchild with grandparents
Grandchildren baking with grandparents

The legal position for grandchildren wishing to see their grandparent

Currently in England, Wales & Northern Ireland, the Children Act 1989 and its subsequent amendments makes no specific reference to grandchildren having the right to a relationship with their grandparent. This is at odds with the expectation that in public law cases grandchildren are very often placed with their grandparents for long-term care generally due a shortage of foster carers. In private law situations, grandparents are required to apply for leave-to-apply to the courts to pursue a contact arrangement of some kind. Family mediation, although a legal requirement to have attempted this before the leave-to-apply stage, is not mandatory - so a grandchild’s parents can refuse mediation rendering the legal principle of ‘no delay’ for a child meaningless.

Scotland has guidance accompanying the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 and has recently secured grandparents’ involvement in the national shared parenting programme ‘New Ways for Families’.

Internationally, some countries such as France and Ireland recognise the importance of the grandchild-grandparent relationship in the legal assumption that a grandchild has the right to a relationship with their grandparent.


Video - Family Law Reform: summarised legal, policy and ethical position 

'Grandparent Act or granny ‘annex’? Waiting for the Government?'

Dr Samantha Davey, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, delivered this presentation for the Family Law Reform Now 2021 Conference held at the University of Birmingham. 


She sets out the overall position for grandparents and their grandchildren both in terms of kinship care and estrangement, and highlights that reform for grandparents who either care for their grandchildren or are actively prevented from seeing their grandchildren as a safe grandparent is limited and fragmented.


She suggests that rather than piecemeal reform tackling aspects of the grandchild-grandparent relationship, there should be a holistic approach that reflects all kinds of contemporary family compositions and roles that grandchildren live within in today's world. 

Note that she is also suggesting a mix of legal, policy and practice change, the multipronged approach that GUfC is also taking in our campaign. Dr Davey is also the co-researcher in the AHRC-funded research 'Fragmented Families' looking at family mediation in relation to grandparents. 

Click here to watch Dr Davey's presentation:

bottom of page