A group of MPs are calling for an amendment to the Children Act 1989 that would extend a child’s right to maintaining relationships with grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Currently, a relative who does not have Parental Responsibility must first seek leave (permission) from the court to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order, which, if successful, would become a court order setting out contact arrangements between a child and their relative. Usually, the same application form for the Child Arrangements Order is also used to request leave from the Court to make the application. Campaigners, such as Jane Jackson, founder of the Bristol Grandparents Support Group, have long sought to have the right to make an application to the court without having to get the Court’s permission. In 2016, there were around 2,000 applications from grandparents to the Family Court attempting to gain legal contact with their estranged grandchildren.

A messy divorce, an acrimonious separation between parents or the death of a parent can, in some cases, lead to grandparents being cut out of their grandchildren’s lives. Those who suffer the heart-breaking enforced separation describe it as a “living bereavement". Grandparents who had previously enjoyed a meaningful, loving, close relationship with their grandchildren find themselves completely shut out. Some are threatened with court action, have gifts and letters returned or never passed to the children, and are unable to call, see or hug them. Some grandparents have committed suicide as a result.

At a time when children need stability and security in their lives more than ever, extended family are able to provide all that and more: a continuity of family belonging, of the children knowing they belong to a wide, caring, supportive family network. Remove that network from children and they will undoubtedly feel a keen sense of bewilderment, confusion and their own bereavement of a lost relationship. 

Tim Loughton MP, a long time campaigner on the issue of “grandparents’ rights” asked during a recent House of Commons debate if “it would be equally appropriate to have a presumption that grandparents should be involved as much as possible in the upbringing of those children, unless – and only unless – there is a problem with the welfare of that child?”.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The welfare of a child is the primary consideration for the family courts and steps are taken wherever possible to reduce the impact of family conflict on children when relationships end. We will consider any proposals for helping children maintain involvement with grandparents, together with other potential reforms to the family justice system, which are currently being looked at.”

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