Generation Gap: The Growing Role of Grandparents in Contact Proceedings 

Published on 09 April, 2018 | Katie Dillon

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Divorce can be a complex enough process when the only individuals directly involved are the spouses themselves.

When they have children, though, they need to balance their own needs with the importance of providing an environment in which their sons and daughters can thrive long after mum and dad have parted.

There is, however, another increasingly frequent element of such discussions.

As we have observed, both from our own experience and analysis of official statistics, many grandparents are determined to have their say about the living arrangements of their grandchildren.

It is something which can be tracked in the rise in court proceedings relating to what are known as Child Arrangement Orders (CAOs).

These orders cover a breadth of topics, including disagreements about whom a child should live or spend time with, along with their schooling or holiday arrangements.

Over the last three years, CAO applications have increased by some 15 per cent but the precise reasons why can’t be seen from the figures produced by the Ministry of Justice alone.

Late last year, the Government provided a parliamentary Written Answer indicating that the number of grandparents making applications had gone up by 18 per cent between 2014 and 2016.

Hall Brown’s own caseload shows that whilst grandparents themselves make just over five per cent of the CAO applications which we have handled, they are closely involved in another 20 per cent of such matters.

Often, they effectively responsible for driving proceedings in the name of their own children, sometimes paying to have a say in their grandchildren’s living arrangements.

I’ve been telling Olivia Rudgard, the Daily Telegraph’s Social Affairs Correspondent, how they report feeling almost compelled to resort to the law because family disputes leave them anxious about whether contact with grandchildren will be maintained (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/08/grandparents-go-court-custody-battles-grandchildren/).

In some cases, their bond is particularly strong as a result of caring for grandchildren whose parents both have had to work.

Of course, there are individuals who believe that the role of grandparents in such a way can be divisive and actually risk inflaming rather than easing tensions.

The motivation to seek a court order reinforcing their right to have ongoing contact could be diminished if those rights were more automatic.

It will be interesting, therefore, to see what impact a new Scottish proposal for just such a provision will have if it becomes law.

In my opinion, courts do not necessarily enjoy the prospect of making an order which puts parents under pressure.

On the other hand, they recognise that if grandparents go to the trouble of making an application, there probably is a situation which merits scrutiny and resolution.

 

 

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