More and more we encounter situations where a grandparent is denied access to their grandchild following the divorce/relationship breakdown of the child’s parents, or as a result of a family dispute.
Not only are such situations devastating for the grandparent, they can also have a detrimental impact on the child who has built a close bond with them. With an ever increasing need for both parents to work, and the soaring costs of child care, we have seen the involvement and role of grandparents change significantly in recent years, yet there is a distinct failure to recognise and endorse the rights of grandparents both socially and legally.
Under current law, grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to contact. The only options available is to attempt to reach an informal agreement with the parents, whether directly or through solicitors/a family law mediator. If this is unsuccessful, they would have to make an application to the Court. However, grandparents cannot make such application without first obtaining leave (permission) of the Court. This requirement sets UK law apart from other European jurisdictions where no such permission is needed and where a continued relationship is deemed the right of the child as opposed the right of the grandparent. The requirement for permission often sees grandparents fall at the first hurdle if they fail to sufficiently demonstrate an existing relationship with the child.
The need for change and reform to the law surrounding the rights of grandparents is not newly recognised. In 2010, The Labour Government produced a Green Paper setting out an intention to remove the requirement for grandparents to seek permission before being able to make an application to the Court for contact. The Family Justice Review was subsequently set up in March 2010 to look into the matter. However, in its report of November 2011, the Review recommended that the requirement for permission to be obtained should remain in place in order to prevent hopeless or vexatious applications that were not in the best interests of the child.
While this remains the current position of the Conservative Government, further progressive steps were taken to incite change on 31.1.17, when a Lobby Day took place in Parliament, organised by Lorraine Bushell of the Hendon Grandparents Support group. On this day, politicians, celebrities and lawyers raised awareness of the emotional and legal difficulties faced by individuals in this situation. They campaigned for a change in the law to acknowledge and support ongoing relationships between grandchildren and grandparents by abolishing the permission requirement.
While the outcome of this campaign is awaited, it highlights that the need for change is recognised and that proactive steps are being taken to bring about such change and for the voices of grandparents in this predicament to be heard.
If you require specialist advice in relation to your rights as a grandparent, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our family team on 020 3814 2020.