Access rights for Grandparents, Aunts & Uncles debated in the Commons

An amendment to the Children Act 1989 which would seek to explore the issues of child access rights for close extended family members and a child’s right to have contact with those relatives has been mooted during a debate in the House of Commons on 2nd May 2018.

The 2011 independent Family Justice Review went some way to examining such matters, however MPs across all parties in the UK Government have recently voiced support to further protect the rights of grandparents, aunts and uncles to continue to have a relationship with their grandchildren, nieces and nephews after a divorce or breakdown of a relationship.

Conservative MP Nigel Huddleston said that he had been alerted to incidents whereby grandparents who attempted to maintain even indirect contact by sending birthday and Christmas gifts and cards to their grandchildren have been subject to allegations of harassment by the Resident parent, resulting in Police involvement.

Mr Huddleston was quoted as saying: “Divorce and family breakdown can take an emotional toll on all involved, but the family dynamic that is all too often overlooked is that between grandparents and their grandchildren. When access to grandchildren is blocked, some grandparents call it a kind of living bereavement.”

Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West read a letter from two of his constituents describing their “heartbreaking” experience of having had no contact with their grandchild for 11 years as they recounted how: “You go through the stages of grief as you do when you actually lose someone, except you are grieving for someone who is still alive.”

Children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi reaffirmed that the paramount principle “has to be the wellbeing of the child” when the government is considering any improvements that can be made to the current system.

“We all have had cases in our surgeries of terrible tales of grandparents not being allowed to see their grandchildren, when it is clearly in the interest of the child. If it is in the child’s interest, as it maybe, to see their grandparents, then that is what should happen. If we keep the child front and centre, we will always do the right thing.”

The Ministry of Justice appeared open to the discourse commenting “The welfare of a child is the primary consideration for the family courts and steps are taken wherever possible to reduce the impact of family conflict on children when relationships end.

“We will consider any proposals for helping children maintain involvement with grandparents, together with other potential reforms to the family justice system, which are currently being looked at.”

Catherine McReynolds