MPs are calling on the government to introduce legislation that will give grandparents the right to see their grandchildren after a divorce.
As the law stands at present, grandparents have no automatic right to spend time with their grandchildren.
Charity Grandparents Plus says that 93% of UK families rely on grandparents for support, but around one million grandparents lose contact with their grandchildren. In some cases, one parent may deliberately prevent the children from spending time with the wider paternal or maternal family when a marriage breaks down.
The Ministry of Justice has said it will consider a proposal to enshrine grandparents’ rights in law after MPs debated the issue in parliament . There is cross party support for a change in the law and several MPs shared the experiences of their constituents during the debate.
Conservative MP Nigel Huddleston said he knew of grandparents who had been accused of harassment and were visited by police after sending birthday cards and Christmas gifts to their grandchildren. Labour’s Darren Jones said before becoming an MP in Bristol he presumed that grandparents had rights to see their grandchildren. He read out a statement from a couple in his constituency who had not seen their grandchild for 11 years, saying how the experience had been “heartbreaking” for them.
As an experienced family lawyer I have encountered a number of grandparents who have been denied the chance to spend time with their grandchildren.
When emotions are running high during separation and divorce, grandparents can easily be sidelined. Yet, grandparents can provide their grandchildren with much needed stability, emotional support, security and practical help when the children are caught up in family breakdown. The grandparents home can be a place of normality and calm amidst the upset caused by parental separation.
In the absence of any current legislation to give minor children the right to spend time with their grandparents, here are five tips that may help grandparents to continue to spend time with their grandchildren during and after the breakdown of their parents’ relationship:
- Do not allow yourself to make comments, write emails or send texts that may cause upset to ether parent of your grandchild. All communications oral or written should be carefully considered particularly when emotions are running high.
- Keep channels of communications open with both parents if possible – this may help their own communications with each other.
- Keep the appearance of not taking sides in the relationship breakdown – even though instinctively a grandparent may want to ‘side’ with their child.
- Prioritise the needs of the grandchild at all times and accept offers of spending time with them on any terms. Do not be concerned about being “used” for child care if it allows you to spend time with your grandchildren.
- Take expert advice early from a family lawyer if you are being denied spending time with your grandchildren.
Children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi has said the government will look at any proposals that could improve the system, but the guiding principle “has to be the wellbeing of the child”.
Resolution, the national association for collaboratively trained family lawyers, has a useful online guide (add Resolution link) for grandparents whose children are going through a divorce.
If you have any concerns about children’s issues , or any aspect of separation or divorce, you can email Harriet at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone her on 01748 900 694. You can follow Silk on Twitter @silkfamilylaw