The right of grandchildren to see their grandparents in the UK
Vanessa Lloyd Platt provides details on a recent survey of grandparents from across the UK
For at least ten years my legal firm, Lloyd Platt & Company has been campaigning for better rights for both grandparents and grandchildren alike. We have acted for countless grandparents who for various reasons have been prevented from continuing a relationship with their grandchildren. Despite our attempts, and those of countless others, the law in relation to this area remains static.
Grandparents do not have an automatic right to see their grandchildren under the Children’s Act 1989 as amended. Grandparents who wish to apply to court have two hurdles. The first hurdle under Section 8, is to apply for leave. This is because successive governments have believed that this filters out inappropriate applications which might interfere with a grandchild’s care, comfort and security. Having seen so many cases, this is rarely ever the case and causes huge delays where the severance in the relationship is allowed to grow and dominate. Where grandparents are then given leave, the court will go on to consider what is in the best interests of the grandchildren.
Successive governments have promoted mandatory mediation is this area, but few are successful, often with the parents refusing to cooperate.
If there are no safeguarding issues regarding the grandchild, cases can take one or more years before any contact can be resumed and the impact on the grandparents and grandchildren is devastating with many calling it a living bereavement.
The findings of a recent survey
In March 2022, Lloyd Platt & Company commissioned an independent Savanta Com Res survey, which consisted of a random sample of 1082 grandparents from across the UK. This was the first indepth report to examine a wide range of factors experienced by grandparents and confirmed that over two million grandparents were no longer seeing their grandchildren. Almost 9/10 grandparents think it should be the right of every grandchild in the UK to have their grandparents involved in their lives. Two-thirds felt that there is not enough awareness of the pain caused to both grandparents and grandchildren by not continuing to have each other in their lives. Overall, 15 percent of grandparents completing the poll were prevented from seeing their grandchildren, of these young grandparents aged from 30 to 49 were more likely to be prevented from seeing their grandchildren.
A personal disagreement or argument is the main reason why a third of grandparents, have been prevented from seeing their grandchildren. The survey identified the main person preventing grandparents from seeing their grandchildren as being a son’s wife or partner.
The report showed that before they were denied contact with their grandchildren, most grandparents were spending time with them and were financially or emotionally involved. Most grandparents were prevented from seeing one or two of their grandchildren. Over half of the grandparents had been in touch for more than a year with their grandchildren before contact was stopped and almost 50 percent had been prevented from seeing them for over a year. Among those, 33 percent had contact or a relationship with at least one of their grandchildren over four years before contact stopped. Despite being denied contact, nearly 8/10 tried to maintain contact with their grandchildren with the majority trying to talk, write or send presents. A significant majority of grandparents were not penalised for attempting to contact their grandchildren. However, of those that had been penalised, 20 percent received police intervention, a police caution or threat of prosecution. Moreover, 15 percent received a solicitor’s letter threatening proceedings and 11 percent had court proceedings taken against them.
Most respondents felt the government should permit grandparents to continue to see their grandchildren during proceedings where there were no issues of safety. The second most pressing issue they felt was important is to give grandparents automatic rights similar to that of parents through a small alteration to the Children’s Act.
It was Nelson Mandela who said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Globally people are living longer and, consequently, the significance and duration of a grandparent’s role is expanding. The aging population represent the capacity to provide a preventative cushion for families and communities and it is, therefore, high time that changes were made as a matter urgency to provide care, love, financial support, and consideration that grandparents can give to grandchildren and that grandchildren crave.
Vanessa Lloyd Platt is the proprietor of Lloyd Platt & Co