Grandparents - The Hidden Heartache

27/02/2017 12:19 GMT | Updated 24/02/2018 10:12 GMT

Over the last few years Lloyd Platt & Co have seen an ever-increasing number of grandparents finding themselves for a variety of reasons being prevented from having any form of contact to their grandchildren. In most of these cases they had enjoyed a very close and loving relationship with their grandchildren, looking after them quite often, seeing them for family occasions, and in many cases making large financial contribution. The numbers of these cases have caused us great concern. As a consequence, we, together with various grandparent groups and Dame Esther Rantzen are campaigning for a change and shift in the law relating to grandparents' relationships with their grandchildren.

At present grandparents are not in the same position as parents, who automatically have parental responsibility ie the automatic right to apply to the Court for any issues relating to the children (provided they are named on the birth certificate). As a grandparent, they have no automatic rights whatsoever.

Whilst the law seems to believe that grandparents will simply resolve issues such as these which have arisen out of a family dispute, divorce or separation or the unilateral decision by one party to stop them seeing the grandchildren, this view is clearly naïve as currently over one million grandparents are not permitted to see their grandchildren.

When this matter was looked at in 2011 by the Family Justice Review, they did not see a need for leave to be removed since they felt that it filtered out unmeritorious cases. The reality is that it has impacted on grandparents countrywide and must be immediately changed.

When grandparents apply for leave the test is, their connection with the child, the risk that there might be as to a disruption of the child's life to the extent that they might be harmed by it. If leave is given, the welfare of the child is then considered to be paramount. The reality is because of the delays caused by grandparents having to apply first for leave and then if lucky enough to have been granted leave for what is known as a "child arrangement order" the court can refuse the application. The reason behind this is because in the eyes of the court it has been such a long period of time since the grandparents have last seen their grandchildren.

At a recent Lobby Day in Parliament, it was clear from the many grandparents that attended that grandchildren are missing out on the vital role that can be played by grandparents in their grandchildren's lives. Not only in many cases have they provided emotional support that might otherwise be omitted or missing altogether perhaps at a time of divorce dispute between the parents, or after a death of a parent but a sense of security. Grandparents need their grandchildren but more importantly grandchildren need their grandparents who can provide a richness of the history of the family that might otherwise be lost forever providing clarity of the grandchildren's background and stories that should be heard. Many grandparents provide financial support, in many of the cases, allowing for their children to get onto the property ladder, contributing towards the grandchildren's school fees or generally helping out where it is required.

Grandparents are ever more finding themselves pulled into divorce and matrimonial disputes having perhaps providing monies to their children for the purchase of a house which if not made clear from the outset can embroil them as being a party to the proceedings. In these many growing cases, where one or other of the parties suggesting that it is a gift and the other maintains that it is a loan, the only way to resolve it as far as the court is concerned, is to join in the grandparents. Similarly, where grandparents out of the goodness of their hearts have paid for their grandchildren's school fees, or provided ongoing monies, grandparents can be pulled in as a resource. From a legal perspective, how can it be that from a financial perspective grandparents can be brought in, yet when it comes to rights to apply for contact to the grandchildren (a child arrangement order) grandparents' rights are so very limited.

Accordingly, after much discussion and research, it is believed that the right of a grandchild to see their grandparents should be enshrined in law as it is with their parents. There is no suggestion that grandparents would want to take away the rights of the parents, merely that the grandchildren should not be deprived of the right to enjoy a relationship with their grandparents.

We hope that debate will be engendered over this issue and that we will succeed in shifting the unhelpful state of the law.

Upon research and particularly arising out of case studies, it is clear that mediation is failing the parties on a universal basis. The system appears to be too structured and does not help in an intractable situation. It is for this reason that Lloyd Platt & Co have now created a new form of dispute resolution, which is proving successful in bringing together grandparents and their children to resolve their difficulties. The parties sign up that they will respect each other, listen to each other's views and try to work towards what is known as a "successful outcome agreement". Many grandparents expressed the view that it seems a more helpful structure than mediation. It is therefore hoped that our procedure will eventually be rolled out across the country.

This firm has conducted research around the world, in various jurisdictions. We have discovered that Britain appears to be virtually one of the few countries that do not give automatic rights to grandparents to apply to the Court. Upon further investigation judges in other jurisdictions appear not to require leave for the grandparents' applications because they are well able to filter out any limited unmeritorious cases during the course of the proceedings themselves.

Across most other countries, grandparents are respected and included. It is now high time that we in Great Britain take the same view and have a more inclusive attitude towards grandparents so that the law can be changed to help the million grandparents who are currently deprived of any opportunity to build a relationship with their grandchildren and the distress that it causes to all.

Vanessa Lloyd Platt

© 2 February 2017