Law to be changed in favour of grandparents

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

If you want to put fear and dread into the heart of any grandparent then tell them they can no longer see their grandchildren.

Yes, those little ones they’ve adored and treasured since birth and willingly looked after when required, are to be removed from their company without further ado by a daughter-in-law (mostly) with, as a rule, no reason given. The situation has become so difficult the government is being forced to intervene. And not before time.

Grandpa and his grandson crafting wooden toys together in a workshop

Grandpa and his grandson crafting wooden toys together in a workshop

This problem is nothing new. I encountered it in my earlier days in health journalism, the first occasion being contacted by the grandparents themselves to see if I could highlight the issue. Their story was awful, the split having been caused by their son’s marriage breaking down and his wife cutting off his family completely. This elderly couple had become ill with the stress and heartbreak. I thought at the time it might have just been a one-off incident. Far from it. This was a growing problem right across the UK. It’s on the increase and, at long last, the government is taking notice.

There has always been mutterings amongst politicians about whether grandparents should have an effective legal right to see their grandchildren after a family split. Sadly, it has taken decades to recognise that something has to be done to address what is a heartbreaking situation not only for grandparents but the child/children themselves. It’s unfortunate that it has got to a stage where the law has to intervene in these cases but it cannot be allowed to drift.

Grandparents in most EU countries do not have such difficulties and their contribution to family life is accepted. I know Greece reasonably well since my daughter-in-law comes from there and many times when we’ve been there dining out in the evening, large families have gathered to eat, yes, including the grandparents, even aunts and uncles. Name Days there are particularly happy events when all the family gather for a celebratory dinner.

Greek society is changing of course as mothers are going out to work and the afternoon siesta is diminishing.

This may bring some changes to family life but, for the moment, grandparents are still treasured and play a useful role.

This is not how it is in the UK where the rows over care for the elderly has left this generation feeling it has become a burden to society. In fact it has bred resentment in young people who think an older generation has it far too good at their expense. Later than it should have the government is now to consider whether grandparents can have some rights to their grandchildren after a family break-up.

Nadhim Zahawi, a minister at the Department of Education has pledged support for grandparents having contact with their grandchildren and the Ministry of Justice is looking at how the legislation can be changed. It will require an amendment to the Children’s Act 1989 ‘enshrining in law’ the child’s right to have a relationship with its grandparents and other close family members like aunts and uncles who can equally feel bereft when deprived of contact with nephews and nieces.

As the law stands grandparents can apply to the courts for the right to apply for access – 2,000 grandparents applied in 2016 – but the law is torturous and includes grandparents also having to go through a formal process of applying for `child arrangement orders’. The cost is in many cases prohibitive and can take years by which time a grandparent could have died.

A review is backed by Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner who told the Daily Telegraph this week that children get ``huge benefits’’ from having grandparents around them. If the changes go ahead judges will be required to `put greater weight on attempts of grandparents, uncles and aunts to win access to their grandchildren after a family break-up’.

From a child’s point of view having a relationship with grandparents and other close family members is important for their own development as they may become parents themselves one day.

I never knew any of my grandparents, they died before I was born, and I grew up thinking I had lost out on something special, a feeling still with me today.