Research has highlighted that nearly a third of all children aged 11 to 16 say they can share things with a grandparent that they cannot discuss with a parent. Another research report shows a strong link between the involvement of grandparents and a child‘s well-being. By refusing to acknowledge the importance of the relationship between a child and his or her grandparents, denies many children the normality they crave. Despite earlier suggestions that grandparents would be given legal rights to maintain contact with their grandchildren after a divorce, a recent report by David Norgrove, a government advisor on family law has indicated that no change in the law is necessary at this point in time. He considered that the current system of grandparents asking the court’s permission before they made an application should remain because the test allowing a person to make an application where they have played an important role in the child’s life, isn’t onerous.
The report went so far as to suggest that some grandparents can often cause further friction during and after divorce proceedings by placing additional demands upon parents and children. The leave test is a method of preventing this. As it stands, grandparents have no automatic right to maintain contact following a parental split and almost half will face the heartbreak of being completely cut off from their grandchildren.
However, in the majority of cases, contact between grandparents and grandchildren can be achieved without the court’s involvement. An agreement can often be reached between the grandparents and the resident parent as a result of negotiations. But what if one or both of the parents refuse to negotiate or even have contact with the grandparents? What if a parent makes promises to allow the children to see their grandparents and then break those promises? The grief and sadness this causes to both the children and the grandparents is enormous. It is akin to a bereavement and creates years of unhappiness and a real sense of loss for both children and grandparents. Another research project suggests that it can even cause early death for grandparents and create illness, both mental and physical in the children, who often grow up to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses.
Of course, there are some grandparents who should not see their grandchildren, as in the case of sexual, emotional or physical abuse, but like parents who are dangerous to their own children, thankfully the numbers are small. In most cases, grandparents and grandchildren give each other unconditional love that strengthens the child’s sense of self and encourages self-esteem and trust, during a time of great difficulty for any child – going through a divorce. At this time, children need stability. They need to be able to trust their parents to maintain contact on their behalf with loving grandparents. Their trust in their parents can be irrevocably damaged if parents show animosity towards or neglect of their children’s beloved grandparents. In later life, such children may find it hard to make and sustain relationships.
What happens during childhood stays with you for the rest of your life. There will always be parents who split and divorce, but if parents can show compassion and understanding and realise that their children need the comfort that a loving relationship with their grandparents can give, then the damage can be limited. Parents and grandparents must work together for the sake of the children. It is a partnership that will benefit everyone involved.
The legal expertise in this article was provided by a solicitor, but should not be relied upon. If you need advice in a similar situation, contact your family legal team.