Published: 25 August 2015
The courts have reported a significant rise in the number of grandparents applying for Special Guardianship Orders to assume parental responsibility for their grandchildren, which has seen an increase of almost 50% in the last four years.
The number of applications for Special Guardianship Orders has increased to 1,931 in 2014 from 1,313 in 2011, with a large number of grandparents taking action in cases where they are concerned for their grandchild's welfare following their parent's divorce, due to health issues of the parent or in some cases, where a parent has passed away.
Whilst they are limited, grandparents do have certain legal rights as per the Children Act 1989. Special Guardianship Orders were first established in 2002 under the Adoption and Children Act and are seen as the most appropriate way for grandparents to obtain parental access to their grandchildren, however grandparents can also apply for Child Arrangement Orders from the court.
It isn't an automatic right that grandparents should have contact with their grandchildren, however it is widely acknowledged by the courts that grandparents play a significant part in the lives of their grandchildren and it is highly unlikely that a court will deny grandparents access to their grandchildren, unless there is evidence of violence or abuse from the grandparent.
Where Contact Orders are concerned, only parents, guardians or step-parents may apply for a Contact Order, however grandparents can apply for permission to apply for a Contact Order and the courts will take certain factors into account, such as the nature of the Contact Order application, the grandparents relationship with their grandchild and if the application could pose any threat to the welfare of the grandchild.
In many cases grandparents are unaware of the different options available to them and the best course of action to take in order to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren. The government have been accused of not doing enough to inform the public about the alternative options available for settling family disputes.
CEO of charity National Family Mediation, Jane Robey, has said that the government must shoulder some of the blame, "The government says it wants to keep family disputes out of court wherever possible. It can certainly talk the talk, but it needs to do more to walk the walk."
"A divorce or separation can shatter grandparents’ lives as much as the couple involved because it can mean contact with the grandchildren they love is suddenly blocked. Making an approach to court should be used only as a last resort by anxious grandparents. Our worry is that the huge majority of the 2,517 grandparents applying for court orders in 2014 knew nothing about the alternative options available to them."
"The family court system is a huge expense to the taxpayer, and government must bear its share of the blame for the lack of information and education about alternative ways to resolve family disputes, including family mediation."
If you are unsure about your rights as a grandparent or the options available to you then K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. Our team of family law specialists are vastly experienced in all aspects involving grandparents rights and can advise you on the best course of action to take.
For more information, or to arrange a free consultation, contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000(Basingstoke) or 01483 370100 (Guildford) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.