Thursday, March 31, 2011

Grandparents will get legal right to see grandchildren after divorce battles

Grandparents will get legal powers to guarantee them access to their grandchildren after divorce battles under new proposals.
For the first time, separating parents will be expected to ensure grandparents continue to have a role in the lives of their children after they split up.

Parenting Agreements will be drawn up that explicitly set out contact arrangements for grandparents. These can then be used as evidence in court if a mother or father goes back on the deal.

The recommendation is part of a sweeping review of the family justice regime commissioned by the Government and led by David Norgrove, a former civil servant.

The Government is likely to accept the recommendations after Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said last year that it was “crazy” that millions of grandparents lost contact after separation and divorce. He said that they played a vital role if relationships broke down.

In 2009, 113,949 divorces were registered in England and Wales. Currently, one in three couples divorces before their 15th anniversary, compared with one in five a generation ago.
Ministers are keen to increase grandparents’ access because they can play a vital role in a child’s life, especially those who are torn between two parents.

Other proposals in the review include legal rights for children to decide which parent they want to live with and when they should see other family members. Parents applying for divorce should be forced to go through mediation, Mr Norgrove has also recommended.

Currently, grandparents have no rights of contact with grandchildren when their own children separate, despite the fact that they are increasingly relied upon for help with child care and family finances.

The Children Act 1989 gave contact powers to step-parents, but not grandparents. Research has suggested that, after a break-up, almost half of grandparents never see their grandchildren again, with those who have sons involved in a split faring the worst.

Mr Norgrove will today recommend that separating parents are made to draw up the agreements with the help of a mediator to “bring together arrangements for children’s care after separation”, thereby “reinforcing the importance of a relationship with grandparents and other relatives and friends who the child values”.

A Whitehall source said: “Mediators will encourage parents to speak to grandparents and engage with them, while grandparents will be encouraged to contribute to the arrangements and engage with their grandchildren.”

While the agreements will not be legally binding, it is recommended they can be used as evidence in a civil court if agreed access is denied.

Other proposals to be disclosed today include spelling out in law the priority that a child should have a “meaningful” relationship with both parents.

The review panel has rejected calls for a legal presumption of 50/50 contact and instead wants parents and courts to consider what the child wants and what is best for them in the long term, even if that means less time with one parent. The aim is to end the impression that custody cases are a “battle” where parties fight to win.

The review also calls for a single online and phone help point to make it easier for people to decide the most appropriate way forward. It is hoped it will give parents better information on how to reach agreements without having to go to court or use lawyers.

A Whitehall source said: “This is putting children at the heart of the system and making sure parents going through divorce think about how they can be best cared for both now and in the future.” The proposals will now go out to consultation.

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