It is estimated that approximately a quarter of a million grandparents in the UK have no contact with their grandchildren and that approximately one million grandchildren are losing out on a special relationship with their grandparents.
Often, the breakdown in contact has occurred as a result of the parents’ separation or divorce and the family feud that, sadly, follows in some cases. In a recent television interview for the BBC’s One Show highlighting this issue, one grandparent described the lack of contact with her grandchildren as being a “living bereavement”.
Many grandparents play an important role in the upbringing of their grandchildren and often offer a sense of fun. Most of us, I am sure, will have very fond memories of happy times with our grandparents who were less strict than our own parents and many of us, too, will have been cared for by our grandparents who offered a free babysitting service at the drop of a hat.
In times of family difficulties, grandparents are often able to afford their grandchildren a neutral and impartial haven and just want to let their grandchildren know that they are loved. They have no wish to fuel the battle that may be raging between the parents. Unfortunately, however, it is sometimes the case that one parent views the grandparents as siding with the other and this results in a hostile relationship, damaging the unique bond that grandparents and grandchildren share.
Unfortunately, the law does not afford grandparents an automatic right to maintain contact with their grandchildren. If an agreement cannot be reached between grandparent and parent and an application to Court proves inevitable, the grandparents must first demonstrate to the Court that it is in the grandchildren’s best interests for them to maintain contact and that they are not pursuing contact as a means of control over the parent. Having successfully secured the Court’s permission to pursue an application for an Order allowing them contact, the grandparents must then embark on what could be lengthy and most certainly will be emotionally draining and damaging litigation. Legal Aid is no longer available to grandparents to pursue an application to Court and in the circumstances, they must either represent themselves or fund legal representation from their own resources and these proceedings can prove to be lengthy and expensive.
Often, with appropriate and considerate legal advice, Court proceedings can be avoided, the adults encouraged to put their differences aside for the sake of the children and the family relationships restored and maintained. Trethowans’ Family Team are members of Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers who promote a non-confrontational approach to the resolution of family problems.
Grandparent support groups are available throughout the UK to offer advice and assistance and grandparents are also encouraged to contact Esther Rantzen through her support service for the older generation, Silver Line or the BBC’s One Show.