Rights for grandparents when parental relationships collapse

In the difficult circumstances of a family break-up, grandparents are often the forgotten victims of separation.

In cases of parents separating or divorcing, despite grandparents having built close emotional bonds with their grandchildren, they unfortunately  have no automatic rights to remain in contact with them after the separation. This is bad enough; but it is bordering on the heartless when grandparents risk arrest for sending a card or a present to a beloved grandchild on his or her birthday or at Christmas.

It appears that the Protection from Harassment Act, which was introduced to prevent stalkers targeting vulnerable women, is being deployed against grandparents who seek to keep simply the most passing contact with their grandchildren. According to campaigners, grandparents risk arrest for sending cards if the parent with whom the child is living objects to the continued contact. “This is not a small issue,” explains Jane Jackson, of the Bristol Grandparents Support Group. “It is something that desperately needs looking into. It is leaving loving grandparents frightened and suicidal.”

This is clearly a difficult and emotive issue – and it is one that was partially addressed in the Government’s Family Justice Review, conducted by David Norgrove and published last year. It called for measures to ensure that grandparents have a greater chance of retaining contact with their grandchildren by emphasising the value of their access in parenting agreements. However, divorces and separations are often so acrimonious that the prospect of reasoned discussion about future access can be remote. The Queen’s Speech foreshadowed a new Children and Families Bill, but the detailed legislation has yet to appear. When it does, it should address this particular injustice.

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