For the first time, concrete plans are afoot to give millions of grandparents legal rights to be part of their grandchildren’s lives.
The move, which will make it slightly easier for grandparents to apply to the court for the right to see their grandkids, recognises the huge role grandparents play as carers in this day and age, particularly if a relationship breaks down.
On the face of it, this is a step forward. To date, they have had no rights and have had to apply to the courts for permission to apply for access rights! This makes it lengthy, expensive and with no real idea of what the outcome will be. The moves announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this week will remove that first obstacle.
You have to say though that while there is no automatic right at the moment, a grandparent simply has to ask for court agreement to apply and they would normally get it. So the changes don’t seem that massive except that if we can get a presumption of contact then it puts the onus on the parent to show why there shouldn’t be – that surely is the correct onus.
However, the phrase “can of worms” springs to mind immediately. Certainly some of the feedback I have already had asks the question: “Why should a grandparent who has not seen their own child for 20 years – often because of a situation of their own making – have the right to apply to see their grandchildren?” And shouldn’t the first priority be to make it harder for loving, caring fathers to be blocked from seeing their children by spiteful ex-wives with whom the children reside?
This is not an easy subject and I can’t see any easy answer. I think for thousands of grandparents it will be a sigh of relief that they have been thrown a line to help them see children with whom perhaps previously they had spent a lot of time. And I do think it is a credit to the new coalition regime that they are tackling a difficult issue and putting family matters so high on the political agenda amid the finance tornado howling around the country.
However, the courts will have to be sure that they are in possession of all the background facts before making any ruling so as not to open the door to unwelcome strangers.
Would you let them in?