MPs are pushing for an amendment to the Children’s Act to allow grandparents and extended family the legal right to see grandchildren after a divorce. Under current UK family law relatives must apply to court for a child arrangement order (CAO) to acquire access rights following the separation of a child’s parents.
The proposed changes, discussed in the House of Commons recently, would protect the rights of grandparents, aunts and uncles to allow them access to children of divorced parents. Previously, extended family members have been accused of harassment and visited by police after trying to seek contact after a difficult divorce, and the debate highlighted the fact that grandparents and other family members are often overlooked as part of a healthy family dynamic.
However, as always, there is a second side to the coin – in which one parent is reluctant to expose a child to family members of an abusive ex-spouse, or is concerned that contact with extended family will complicate an already fractious relationship with a co-parent.
MPs raised both viewpoints of the situation – on the one hand, suggesting that wherever possible grandparents should be involved in the upbringing of a child, while on the other hand highlighting the fact that the welfare of children should remain paramount. The issue is clearly a delicate one, and should be considered on a case-by-case basis, which may mean that a blanket rule for extended family is impossible.
It will remain to be seen whether the amendment is made, or whether a more simplified method of granting access to extended family is possible. In any case, there’s no doubt that divorce can be a highly emotional experience for all involved, having repercussions beyond the immediate family unit. In an ideal world, separation would be amicable and a healthy ongoing relationship between both sides made possible, but unfortunately we know this is not always the case, and the fact remains that grandparents and extended family are missing out on time with children of divorced parents.
In our experience, the best way to foster a positive co-parenting relationship that includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family members is to take a cooperative approach to the separation process itself. Out-of-court dispute resolution methods such as mediation and collaborative family law focus on compromise, mutual agreement, and teamwork to put children at the centre of any decisions, and help parents to put together a co-parenting plan for the future. Not only are these methods less combative than court proceedings, they have also been proven to be quicker, cheaper and more effective in the long term where children’s issues are concerned, since they’re based on collaboration rather than animosity. In these cases, mediators and solicitors should consider the effect of divorce on extended family and work together with couples to factor in quality time with children following separation.
To speak to an experienced family lawyer about out-of-court alternatives, or how to handle separation when children are involved, get in touch with the friendly, down-to-earth solicitors at Frances Lindsay & Co.