Contact between children and their grandparents after their parents’ separation continues to be a difficult issue. The matter was discussed in Parliament this week and David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, is due to make an announcement about possible changes to the law shortly.
The intention is for there to be a change to the current legislation to enable children to maintain a relationship with their extended family members after their parents separate. There are far too many cases across the country whereby children are no longer ‘allowed’ to see their extended family as a result of their parents’ separation. This seems contrary to the provisions of the Children Act 1989 (“the Act”) and more importantly every child’s right to family life under the Human Rights Act 1998.
The proposed changes to the current law are not quite what people had expected in that it is not the grandparents’ right to continue to have a relationship with their grandchild but instead the child’s right to continue to have such a relationship. This should apply to all extended family members, including cousins, aunts and uncles.
There will be a presumption that an extended family member’s involvement in the child’s life is beneficial to the child and that therefore their relationship should continue. This is the same presumption that currently applies to parents under the Act.
The expectation is that the alienated family member would issue an application under the Act and the Court will ensure that the welfare of the child is paramount and the ‘welfare checklist’ would apply. The wishes and feelings of the child would also be taken into consideration so that appropriate recommendations can be made to the court as to whether the relationship between the extended family member and the child should continue or not.
Family lawyers welcome the proposed changes and are waiting in anticipation to hear from the Justice Secretary in that regard.
If you are a grandparent or other relevant family member experiencing similar difficulties as described above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us for advice and guidance.
Caption: Sophia Mellor, Solicitor. Family Department