Grandparents to win legal rights to see grandchildren

Family solicitors are supporting the government’s drive to give grandparents more legal rights of access to their grandchildren following divorce.

Grandparents look set to gain greater legal rights to their grandchildren as the government moves to introduce moves to support the family.

As well as flexible parental leave and a governmental crackdown on ‘irresponsible’ advertising directed at children, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has vowed to improve the lot of the grandparent following family separation.

“We all know the role grandparents can play in helping children through these difficult times. But often grandparents don’t feel empowered to step in. That’s crazy, and it needs to change.”

The Children Act 1989 grants an automatic right to step-parents who have lived as part of the family for three years to apply to the family courts for contact with their children. However, the same right is not given to grandparents.
The Grandparents' Association reported it received at least 700 calls a month from grandparents battling to see their grandchildren.

At present, grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply for a Contact Order (Access) or a Residence Order (Custody) in respect of their grandchildren unless the children have been living with them for 3 years out of the last 5 years for a Contact Order or one year for a Residence Order, which for most grandparents will not be the case.

Grandparents are required to first apply to the court for "leave" to make the application for contact or residence, which must be made in writing to the court. Normally leave is granted to the grandparents provided they can show a genuine interest and commitment to the child.

After this lengthy and expensive process, grandparents are able to apply to the court for contact (access) or residence (custody) in the usual way.

Family solicitor Madeline Rand, head of the matrimonial department at Cardiff law firm RL Edwards, says of the process, “In my experience, it is quite easy to overcome these initial hurdles, once it can be established that there is no risk for the grandchild. After all, the court is trying to look at the best interests of the child. However I do think the changes will benefit grandparents, who have virtually no legal rights.”