Family lawyer, Bronda Lohan, tells us why she believes it's essential that grandparents are made to ask permission to apply for guardianship of grandchildren - but equally, why it's essential that a child's right to their extended family is remembered.
How to encourage genuine applications for guardianship?
As far as family law is concerned, under the Children Act 1989, grandparents are grouped into the category of "any other person". As a result, where arrangements about the care of a grandchild cannot be agreed, grandparents must apply to the court for leave, essentially asking for permission, to bring an application in relation to the child. A court will consider a number of factors, including the grandparents' relationship with the child and the risk of disruption to the child's life that court proceedings may have. There have been calls for this hurdle to be removed but, to date, it remains in place.
The role of a grandparent in any one child's life can vary enormously, from living with the child full time, to contact once a year or no contact whatsoever...
The role of a grandparent in any one child's life can vary enormously, from living with the child full time, to contact once a year or no contact whatsoever (although this can also be the case for parents, that would be less common). For that reason, I believe it would be wrong to afford them the same status as parents and remove the need to seek permission before bringing an application. I believe that the role of a grandparent in a child's life is often vital. The hope is, by having this requirement of applying for leave, only genuine applications by grandparents who play a positive and active role in a child's life are heard.
This serves to increase awareness of grandparents' rights and the positive role they can play in a child's life. The current family justice system focuses on the best interests of the child, and rightly so. The best interests of a child can only be met, however, where all parties involved understand their own rights, the rights of others and, most importantly, the child's right to have a relationship with their extended family.