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Divorce and separation can be a huge emotional drain on all involved, but one element that is all too often overlooked is the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren. When access to grandchildren is denied, some grandparents describe it like a sort of living bereavement.
When the issue was debated in parliament at the beginning of May, MPs shared experiences of their own constituents. Some were accused of harassment for merely sending birthday cards and Christmas gifts to their grandchildren.
So the fact that The Ministry of Justice has announced that it will consider proposals to give grandparents an automatic, legal right to see their grandchildren after divorce will surely be music to some people’s ears.
If proposals were to be given the green light, this would involve an amendment to the Children Act, giving a child the right to have a close relationship with members of their extended family, including grandparents, in the event of their parents separating.
According to The Grandparents’ Association, an estimated one million grandparents in Britain are currently denied access to their grandchildren, usually as a result of family breakdown.
The important point to highlight, however, is that this doesn’t mean grandparents don’t currently have any rights and can’t take action. On the contrary. While this right is not automatic under current law, the Family Court do recognise the invaluable role they often play in their grandchildren’s’ lives. Therefore, there is provision for grandparents to seek permission from the Court to make an application for an Order to ensure they are permitted to see their grandchildren.
If the Court is satisfied that it is within the best interests that the children see their grandparents, it will grant permission to make an application for a ‘Child Arrangements Order’ which will ultimately, if successful, set out when the children can spend time with their grandparents.
This may not only include time during the day, but also overnight stays including holidays, and other special occasions, for example holidays.
If all parties are agreeable in the first place, it is possible to attend Mediation in order to try and resolve difficulties without the need to resort to Court intervention. Mediation is a process where a trained Mediator in Family Law meet with the parties, together or alone, to explore whether or not the difficulties between them can be resolved. As well as mediation, there is also the Collaborative process – a client centred approach which focuses on finding solutions to family problems using specifically trained collaborative lawyers.
Whatever the direction that these new proposals take, at the end of the day, who can argue with the words of the children’s minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who said the guiding principle “has to be the wellbeing of the child”. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson added: “The welfare of a child is the primary consideration for the family courts and steps are taken wherever possible to reduce the impact of family conflict on children when relationships end. We will consider any proposals for helping children maintain involvement with grandparents, together with other potential reforms to the family justice system, which are currently being looked at.”
Our Family Law team regularly assist grandparents who are experiencing difficulties in maintaining regular visits with their grandchildren. If you are feeling isolated from your grandchildren as a result of a relationship breakdown between your child and their partner, we can advise and assist you with a view to resolving those difficulties either via the Court process or through an alternative channel.
If you require further information or would like to book an appointment with one of our family law solicitors, then please call us today on 0800 999 4437 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org