It may come as a surprise to some people to discover that grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to be part of their grandchildren’s lives. As the law stands, they don’t even have the right to have access to their grandchildren.
Sadly, when a marriage breaks down, it is by no means uncommon for the parent the child(ren) live with to stop or reduce the contact with the grandparents. Sometimes this is resolved, once the initial shock of the marriage breakdown has passed. However, that’s not always the case, and this has meant that in recent years a significant number of grandparents have gone to court in the hope of restoring their relationship with their grandchildren.
According to figures given in a written parliamentary answer by the Justice Minister, Simon Hughes MP, and reported by Family Law Week, grandparents made an average of seven new applications every day last year for a court order to see a grandchild. Over the whole of 2013-14, grandparents applied for 2517 Child Contact Orders and Child Arrangement Orders. These figures compare to 2649 applications in 2012-13 and 2319 in 2011-12.
Esther Rantzen, patron of Bristol Grandparents’ Support Group, said that it was “absolutely tragic” that children should be prevented from having a relationship with their grandparents because adults disagree with each other. Ms. Rantzen contrasted the legal position in England and Wales with that in France, observing that: “Under French law, children have a legal right to contact their extended family, especially their grandparents, and that means cases are less likely to go to court.”
David Cousins of the Grandparents’ Association, said that the charity’s helpline was receiving an increasing number of calls from grandparents who have been denied access to their grandchildren. Mr. Cousins also commented on the financial cost to grandparents of raising court actions.
However, Jane Robey, the CEO of National Family Mediation, felt that going to court should be a last resort for anxious grandparents. She expressed concern that many of the grandparents who had applied for court orders in 2014 “knew nothing of the alternative options available to them”. It is important for grandparents in this situation to speak to solicitor about their rights in order to fully understand their options.