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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

No change on grandparent rights

The interim report of the Family Justice Review was published a couple of months ago and has caused such a wave of interest that it seems very few people have digested its contents yet. Having been critical of the time it takes to conduct such reviews and get some constructive change to happen, I did sit down and read it all recently. As you can imagine, it is not the most riveting read though there were some fascinating insights in there. It was also interesting to see how certain important nuggets of information appear to be almost hidden – glossed over so you might not notice if you are reading quickly.

Take grandparents rights for instance. I blogged a year ago about plans announced by Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg to remove one of the obstacles in the way for grandparents wanting to use the courts to try and have regular contact with their grandchildren. It was seen at the time as a significant move towards recognising the huge role grandparents play as carers and in the raising of younger members of the family. However, the initial report suggests this idea has fallen by the wayside.

I think there were good reasons why this measure should not have been viewed in isolation and therefore why this is quite probably the right course of action. It would be quite fair for absent fathers fighting to see their own children to ask why time and resources were being devoted to helping grandparents when surely some parents should be in front of the queue for help. However, the way that it was announced and then quietly shelved does suggest to the cynic in me that it was political points scoring. Don’t make a song and dance about it too early in the debate if it is unlikely to ultimately get support. That’s like telling friends you are going to buy a Porsche, realising you cannot afford it and going for a Ford Fiesta instead. You wouldn’t get away with that without some questions being asked.

So it will remain that grandparents still have no automatic rights to see their children’s children. There is a process they can go through to get regular access, but the first step will remain that they must ask the court for permission to pursue this process.

We had 1,700 people landing on our website in April alone looking for advice on grandparent's rights – 11,000 for the whole of 2010. It does therefore seem that this is an issue that is growing in prominence for many people. Is it not therefore slightly dismissive of their valuable input to the younger generation’s upbringing to bounce this idea but not open a debate on what could/should be done to help?

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor


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