Improved rights for grandparents on the horizon

Grandparents estranged from their grandchildren following the separation of the parents have warmly welcomed the suggestion from Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer QC, that their standing in law will be reconsidered, with a view to providing them improved rights and protections to see their grandchildren.

Whitehall has agreed to review the law surrounding contact between grandparents and the children of separating couples, following pressure from campaigning groups such as Grandparents Plus. Proposed changes have been suggested to amend the Children Act 1989 to include a child’s right to have a close relationship with members of their extended family, including aunts and uncles.  The current rules mean relatives must apply to court to seek “leave” to apply for a child arrangement order, allocating contact between a child and the grandparent.

Form many families, the contact between children and their grandparents is negotiated outside of formal contact proceedings, and frequently develops as part and parcel of the overall contact granted to the non-resident parent. Contact with other extended family members may on occasion also can stand in place of a child’s contact with an abusive parent. It is also commonplace for grandparents to fill supervising role in contact arrangements, operating as a “trusted” third party.

Nevertheless, substantial numbers of grandparents lose  contact with their grandchildren on separation and many are turning to the Children Act 1989 to secure orders for defined contact. Research published by Families Need Fathers, the Grandparents Association and the Family Matters Institute indicates that 42% of grandparents lose contact with their grandchildren when their parents separate. There has been an increase of almost 20 per cent in applications made by grandparents for child arrangements since 2014, rising to just under 2,000 in 2016.

The Justice Minister said, “Grandparents play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren and I sympathise with those who experience the anguish of being prevented from seeing their grandchildren if a parental relationship ends. I am looking at what measures the government could take to help more grandchildren maintain contact with grandparents following parental separation.”

Many campaigners want the English and Welsh courts to follow other European systems, such as France, where access between grandchildren and grandparents is a legal presumption following divorce or family separation.

If you would like to discuss securing an order for contact with your grandchild, or other issues relating to children following the breakdown of a relationship, contact one of our expert family solicitors today on 01234 88977  or 0207 177 9777 for a free consultation. Serving rural and central Bedford, together with the City of London, our lawyers can help you with all your family law matters.

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