In January of this year the government was said to be placing grandparents at the centre of its family strategy for the election. Ed Balls announced that he planned to abolish laws that currently require grandparents to obtain court permission to see estranged grandchildren when contact is denied following divorce, family breakdown or family feuds. He also stated that the government will set up an information website "BeGrand" and publish information targeted at grandparents setting out their legal rights and other ways to maintain family relationships.
Currently the Children Act 1989 prescribes the persons entitled to apply for residence, contact orders and other orders as of right and without permission of the court. These persons include any parent, guardian or special guardian; any person with parental responsibility or any person with a residence order in relation to the child.
As a result any grandparent seeking to make such an application needs permission (also known as leave) of the court to do so. The case law in relation to grandparents seeking leave is clear in that Judges must recognise the greater appreciation of the valuable contribution that grandparents make and should be careful not to dismiss such a potential contribution without full inquiry. It has been confirmed that this is the minimum essential protection of the rights under Article 6 and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that grandparents enjoy.
Notwithstanding the court’s stance, a change to the law abolishing the leave requirement would remove this hurdle for grandparents and give the right message to families in terms of the importance of the role of grandparents in children’s lives. They can play an invaluable role in family life and children can be the first to suffer when grandparents are excluded from their lives as a result of family conflict.
It should be noted that the proposed change does not extend to other extended family members and often aunts, uncles and other relatives can play very important roles in children’s lives.
By family solicitor, Victoria Gethin