Many of our readers are grandparents who are unable to see or visit their grandchildren after parental divorce or separation, so when we saw this debate in the House of Commons, we thought it was important to share it.
On 25th April, David Mackintosh MP hosted a discussion in Westminster Hall which asked the House of Commons to look at grandparents’ ability to see their grandchildren when a change of circumstances within the family unit takes place.
Several issues come to light in the discussion. The first is that a lack of contact with grandchildren after separation or divorce is far reaching and appears to be affecting a substantial, and ever growing number of grandparents across the country.
A charity in Northampton called GranPart is also mentioned, which acts as a support group for grandparents who have lost touch with their grandchildren.
A suggestion to insert a new clause in the Children Act 1989 that bolsters grandparents’ access to grandchildren is also made, much like the amendment pushed through in 2014 which encourages family courts to work from the presumption that both parents should be involved in a child’s life where right for the child.
Matthew Offord MP suggests switching perspective and copying France: there, children are given the right to contact with extended family.
Some grandparents felt that the court system was entirely the wrong place to sort out contact between themselves and their grandchildren, due the traumatic nature of the process.
The idea of removing a current barrier to access in the form of grandparents having to ask permission to apply for contact was also put forward, replacing it with an automatic presumption allowing applications for contact.
There was also the suggestion to offer grandparents free legal advice to better understand the process as it can often be complicated for grandparents who are hoping to reconnect with grandchildren. For example at the moment, grandparents have to ask permission from a court to apply for a child arrangement order, but they can only apply if they have lived with the child for three years. Permission to ask for contact can cause problems for grandparents because of the thresholds in place which include several requirements.
Once such requirement is that grandparents must have stayed with the child for a minimum of three years. However, this is a crude measuring stick, because whilst some grandparents may not have spent three years with the child, they may be on hand regularly providing significant support and assistance. This point is also discussed at the meeting, and a proposal to consider child minding as a key factor in negotiating contact between grandparents and their grandchildren is mentioned.
The debate is worth reading in full, for all the thoughts put forward and also the very sweet sentiments expressed by MPs who also happen to be grandparents, like this one from Jim Shannon:
“I declare an interest—because I am of that age—as a doting grandfather. Looking round the Chamber, I am not sure whether everyone is a grandparent, but I know that you, Mr Streeter, are one of the people who have achieved that goal. When I held my eldest son Jamie in my arms some 29 years ago, I thought that nothing in this world could top the pride and love that I felt as I looked into that perfect little face. I was wrong. There was a little girl who made her way into this world and into a special place in her grandfather’s heart that had never been touched before. My little Katie is eight years old. When I thought there was no more room left in my heart, little Mia came along—she is just three years old—underlining the fact that there is nothing more enjoyable than time with grandchildren. There is also the fact that, as we all know, they can be handed back whenever they get a bit stroppy. That is one of the great advantages of being a grandparent.”