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Grandparents take to the courts in droves to assume parental control

Last four years has seen an almost 50 per cent increase in the use of Special Guardianship Orders

17 August 2015

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The courts have received a steep influx in the number of grandparents litigating to acquire parental responsibility for their grandchildren by applying for Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs), according to lawyers at Collyer Bristow.

Grandparents are also increasingly taking action to secure contact with their grandchildren in the event of a divorce, and often have to step in due to parental illness or premature death.

The number of SGOs has risen from 1,313 in 2011 to 1,931 in 2014; an increase of 47 per cent over the last four years.

Susan Breen, a senior associate at the firm, explained that grandparents are increasingly turning to the courts to intervene when they feel their grandchildren's welfare is being overlooked.

'The increased tendency of grandparents needing to intervene in how their grandchildren are being raised is driving the wider use of [SGOs],' said Breen.

'For example,' said Breen, 'one case involved grandparents concerned about a grandchild being taken out of school to go on a round-the-world trip or participating in the alternative lifestyle of their parents.'

Earlier this year, Simon Dakers, a partner at Gordon Brown Law Firm, explained that not all local authorities are embracing SGOs as a desirable outcome for placing children away from their parents and, in some cases, are failing to even mention them as options.

'Some 85 per cent of children have difficulties at the point of placement with kinship carers, with 29 per cent categorised as "challenging throughout placement", therefore it's imperative that carers receive any help available from local authorities,' he said.

While SGOs - which were introduced under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 - are increasingly seen as the most sensible means of acquiring parental responsibility, grandparents wishing to gain control over the upbringing of a grandchild can also apply for Child Arrangement Orders (CAOs).

In February, the former justice minister, Simon Hughes, revealed that some 2,517 court applications were made in 2014, up from 2319 in 2011, by grandparents for CAOs or contact orders.

Leading family charity National Family Mediation (NFM) has criticised the government for the lack of information available about alternative approaches to settling family disputes.

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