Western Mail, 1st April 2011

Separating parents should be required to ensure grandparents continue to have a role in the lives of their children after they split up, a report said yesterday.

The proposal is part of a raft of measures designed to ensure youngsters suffer as little as possible during bitter divorce battles.

It forms part of a government-commissioned review on family justice by former civil servant David Norgrove, who recommends courts draw up new contract agreements for the benefit of parents and children.

The report, which consulted a selection of bodies, states: “The panel recognises the importance that grandparents play in children’s lives, and that this is a relationship that is often highly valued by both children and other family members.

“The importance of this continuing after parents have separated came through strongly in the call for evidence.”

It has suggested building access rights for grandparents into Parenting Agreements, a key area of the proposals.

Under current legislation, grandparents have no rights of contact with grandchildren when their own children divorce.

A government spokesman said: “The panel’s interim findings provide a valuable initial assessment of the challenges which the family justice system faces and makes recommendations including ensuring that the interests of children remain paramount, better services for families who are separating, and recognition for the important role grandparents can play in supporting children.”

Significant numbers of grandparents in Wales report difficulties trying to maintain contact with their grandchildren following family breakdown, a new report from Children in Wales revealed yesterday.

David James, a partner at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice, said he often sees paternal grandparents applying through the courts for contact with their grandchildren, which can be used as a means to try and support and enhance any existing contact between the father and the child when the mother has residence and the child is living with her.

Additionally maternal grandparents may apply for contact, following a dispute with their daughter which prevented them from seeing their grandchildren.

Mr James said: “This is clearly a difficult step to take and you anticipate it must be highly emotive for the parties themselves to be in the same courtroom. We do deal with issues of this nature on a frequent basis, and the difficulties may arise for any number of reasons where there has been a fallout between family members.

“Objectively it is perceived as being a very harsh step to take to exclude the grandparents.”

Currently, grandparents must apply for leave, or permission, from the court before they can make an application for contact as there is no automatic entitlement.

The Children in Wales report, “If It Wasn’t For You Gran: A Survey of Grandparents in Wales”, also highlighted the barriers for grandparents who had become full-time or kinship carers, such as the struggle to access essential information regarding legal matters or benefits, and the lack of sufficient or consistent support.

Lynne Hill, policy director at Children in Wales, said: “Children in Wales spoke to grandparents who are kinship carers and caring for their grandchildren full-time. They told us how lonely and exhausting it can be. All the grandparents had found having their grandchildren to stay with them resulted in financial hardship as most were retired or had been forced to give up their job.”

Ruth Marks, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, said: “Grandparents have a huge role in families, either involved for holidays, treats or taking full responsibility for bringing up the grandchildren. When contact and access is denied, this causes real disruption and upset – no-one wins.

“I urge everyone to recognise and acknowledge the contribution grandparents make, and want to continue making, to families and communities across Wales.”