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Grandparents may find it easier to have contact with grandchildren

Grandparents are sometimes the forgotten victims of family breakdowns.

They have no automatic right to have contact with their grandchildren which means they may face an uphill struggle if they are denied access during family disputes.

Proposed new legislation put forward in the Green Paper ‘Support for All - the Families and Relationships Green Paper’ could help to eliminate some of the difficulties.

The Government wants to make it easier for grandparents - described as "unsung heroes" by Children’s minister Ed Balls - to seek contact with their grandchildren. As the law stands now, they have to get permission from a court before they can even start to make an application for contact.

The proposed new measures would remove that hurdle making the process easier.

Court action ought to be a last resort, of course. The first step should be to approach the parent who’s being obstructive and try to reach an agreement. This can difficult if they are feeling bitter after the break-up of a relationship but in time, most people will realise the value of their child having contact with the grandparents.

If that doesn’t work then mediation with the guidance of an independent mediator might help. However, both sides have to agree so it may not always be suitable.

Legal action may then become necessary, although there’s a good chance the problem could still be resolved before you get to court. Once the application is made, family advisory officers from the court agency CAFCASS may be appointed to examine welfare issues and prepare a report.

These reports are often strong enough to persuade the obstructive parent that contact would be good for their child. If not, the matter is likely to be decided by the court.

If the court decides in favour of contact with the grandparents then the parents will have to comply.

Legislation based on the Green Paper may still be a long way off but it should at least give grandparents confidence that the tide is turning in their favour and that their role in their grandchildren’s lives is highly valued. In the meantime, they can still ask for court permission to make an application for contact.

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