Family law change gives supportive grandparents a greater role

Anthony Ball
Anthony Ball

Family lawyer Antony Ball (pictured), an associate at the Doncaster office of hlw Keeble Hawson, explains why a change in family law gives supportive grandparents a greater role.

A recent poll reveals that nearly two million grandparents have given up jobs, or cut their working hours, to mind their grandchildren.

The Ipsos Mori poll, commissioned by charities Grandparents Plus, Save the Children, and The Family and Childcare Trust, also shows that grandparents are increasingly making financial contributions too.

Over the summer holidays this unpaid army of carers will be minding grandchildren for even longer hours – and probably dipping into their pockets to pay for additional treats.

If a marriage or relationship breaks down it is critical that these loving grandparents are able to continue to play a significant role in the lives of their granddaughters and grandsons.

Therefore, it’s welcome news that recently introduced laws give grandparents a greater role in the lives of their grandchildren when mums and dads separate and divorce. However, this element of The Children and Families Act 2014, which has overhauled the family law system in England and Wales, seems to have slipped in under the radar.

The new legislation stipulates that the extended family of a separated couple can now have a say in the upbringing of their children if the court awards them parental responsibility – even if the children do not live with them.

These changes are good news for grandparents as the law is finally recognising and supporting the important contribution they make to modern family life. The notion of the grandparent being in the background and only visiting on special occasions is long gone.

However, many grandparents, aunts and uncles are unaware of these changes and we must make more information available.

Many of my clients who are grandparents have developed active roles within the family, particularly in the care of infant grandchildren, and are keen to continue offering that support even if the parents have separated. Quite often when this happens, their value and input becomes even more critical to the functioning and stability of the family.

Before the Act came into force earlier this year, grandparents and extended family members were only granted parental responsibility by the court if the children were living with them.

The new Act represents a significant step forward and it is timely that the court is able to recognise and endorse the role extended family play. Now those = us supporting and advising parents and grandparents must ensure that we actively promote this ground-breaking change in the law.

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