A family lawyer from Worcestershire has issued a warning to grandparents not to let their grandchildren slip away in the event of divorce.
While mothers and fathers have automatic rights, Parliament has confirmed grandparents must still apply to the courts to keep access if they feel they are being denied contact.
Child law expert Robert Pearce from mfg Solicitors says it is too easy for the system to forget grandparents when custody is being decided, despite them playing a greater role than ever before in raising children.
The respected child care specialist warned grandparents they have no automatic rights conferred on them – a legal position recently reinforced in a briefing paper to MPs and published in the House of Commons Library.
There had been proposals to remove the need for grandparents to apply to the courts back in 2010, but were scrapped following a review – despite figures showing almost two thirds of grandparents, around seven million, are regularly providing childcare so their own children can save on the cost of childcare.
Mr Pearce said: “The role of grandparents is growing in importance, particularly when it comes to childcare for working parents. But their rights have not changed. Sadly we see all too often that when parents’ divorce, the grandparents lose contact with their grandchildren through no fault of their own.
“There are ways to avoid court, particularly through mediation, but if that fails then the last resort has to be a two-step process to apply for a preliminary application to the Family Court, and then the application itself.
“Generally grandparents find the courts look favourably on them as long as it is clear the application shows they genuinely have grandchildren’s interest at heart. However, there is still a complicated process to go through and grandparents need to seek advice early.”
Official Ministry of Justice figures revealed there were 1,624 applications for contact orders in England and Wales in 2014 and a further 1,335 in the first three quarters of 2015.
Mr Pearce added: “It can be a difficult time for families going through a divorce but it is equally so for grandparents who cannot see their grandchildren. At the heart of many divorces are innocent children who need to be able to have as stable and normal a life as possible. For the vast majority of those children, contact
with grandparents is essential. Sadly the law does not automatically recognise this, but there is no reason to let what is a matter of procedure stop grandparents from seeing their grandchildren.”
For advice on divorce and your legal rights readers can email Mr Pearce through firstname.lastname@example.org