David Thomas is a full-time carer.
Marriage break-ups can be horrible destructive things, but when one of the parties is hell bent on revenge the level of nastiness can affect the whole wider family. Take Alice as an example. Alice is a lovely lady, but there is a sadness in her eyes: her friends can see it, though if you didn’t know her well you wouldn’t know anything was amiss.
Her problems stem from when she finally, after much soul-searching, fled her long and very abusive marriage. She knows that she should have gone sooner, but she stayed to provide a stable family life for her children. If she could have her time again, she knows she would have done things differently – but the past is the past and cannot be changed. “I will destroy you”, her ex-husband told her as she left, “I will make sure you never see your family again”. Sadly, in one respect he was right.
Alice is a grandparent – something she had looked forward to being for a very long time. At first, everything in Alice’s cupboard was rosy; she enjoyed her role as a grandmother enormously. Weekly visits to see her grandchild, baby-sitting duties and visits from her son’s new family became a regular part of her life.
Then all of a sudden she was informed that she wouldn’t be able to see her grandchild again, and if she wanted to challenge the decision she would have to take it through the courts. This came as a complete and utter shock to Alice who to this day doesn’t know what brought it about. Her world fell into freefall, and she was very nearly destroyed by it. She has always suspected her ex-husband’s hand being behind it. Two years on, and she still hasn’t seen the grandchild she adores, and is none the wiser as to the reason why.
She has tried to find out – of course she has, reduced to being able to contact her son only by letter. She has offered olive branches and peace offerings, she has begged and pleaded – but all she gets is this wall of silence.
The excruciatingly sad thing is that she is not alone. The number of grandparents in Britain today who are being denied contact with their grandchildren is approaching the one million mark. One in fourteen grandparents are in this position – staggering figures for a caring, loving society.
Alice’s story is not all doom and gloom. She has happily re-married. There is just one thing outstanding to make her feel complete. I imagine that the other nearly a million stories are similar.
Does Alice or indeed any other grandparent in this position have any rights in law? No, I’m afraid they do not. Mediation would have to be tried first, but this costs serious money and if there was no co-operation from the other side where does that leave Alice? She could apply to the Family Court for leave to apply for a Child Arrangement Order: the Family Court does recognise the role that grandparents play, and the leave would in all probability be granted.
All this would cost Alice further money but, even were she successful, what if her grandchild was subsequently not delivered at the right time and place – or even not at all. These orders are not worth the paper – they are printed on and Alice would be back at square one and seriously out of pocket. The trouble with taking court action is that there will be a winner and a loser,and that can seriously entrench attitudes further.
Where is her grandchild in all this? Has anyone considered the welfare of this child who cannot possibly be better off without contact with a loving grandmother and indeed the extended family. A part of their identity is being denied. When the courts are dealing with a divorce the welfare and rights of the child are at the top of the list.
All it takes is for grandparents to receive the same status as parents, step-parents and guardians.
Is this the same in other countries? In France, it is enshrined in law that children are given the choice whether or not to continue a relationship with their grandparents. If France can do it, then so can we.
Everything that I have written is about grandparents rights, but you can easily turn the case on its head and call it Grandchildrens Rights. As a member of the European Union (as we still are at the time of writing), we are bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, as are the other 27 members. Article Eight of this convention talks about a respect for one’s private and family life, and the Court has given protection for this right. Grandchildren (and grandparents too) have therefore every right to expect the ECHR to give them exactly that.
We have to re-think the present impasse. There are nearly a million reasons why.