Grandparents will get key role in family splits: Shake-up to ensure they keep in touch with youngsters
Grandparents should be able to maintain contact with their grandchildren after a family breakdown or divorce, ministers will say today as they unveil a huge shake-up in family law.
Parenting agreements between separating mothers and fathers will be amended to emphasise the important role grandparents play in children’s lives, Government sources said.
The Daily Mail revealed last week that the rights of fathers following a family breakdown are to be dramatically strengthened in the most radical changes since the 1989 Children Act.
Ministers argue grandparents should be able to continue to see their grandchildren following a family breakdown. Changes are being planned to the 1989 Children Act
The Act is to be rewritten to make courts protect the rights of millions of children from broken homes to have a ‘full and continuing relationship’ with both parents.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke will
confirm the Government is to reject the central recommendation of a
report on family justice, which concluded there should be no change in
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke reveals the government is rejecting a report's recommendation
The move will be welcomed by fathers’ rights groups, who have argued for years that the family courts are biased in favour of mothers.
The Government’s response to the report, by former businessman and Whitehall mandarin David Norgrove, is also expected to set out proposals to recognise the role of grandparents.
Ministers have decided against creating a new legal right to access for grandparents following warnings it could dramatically complicate family disputes that end up in court – a decision likely to anger some campaigners.
But a Government source said guidance on parenting agreements between separating mothers and fathers would be amended to ensure that grandparents were included.
Ministers say many more custody and maintenance disputes should be settled using independent mediators, rather than in the adversarial family courts, and are to provide millions of pounds in extra funding for mediation.
A source said: ‘Children get a huge amount of love and support from grandparents. That’s why we will do what we can to ensure that grandparents can remain part of their grandchild’s life if their mum and dad separate.
‘Parent agreements are made between mother and father, usually with an independent mediation service. Government issues guidance on how they should be done and what we’re talking about is a change in that.
‘The Government is going to consider how parent agreements can be amended to help emphasise the need for other family members such as grandparents to be involved.’
Ministers say it is a scandal that there is ‘little or no’ recognition of the vital role grandparents play in society. Research suggests they are increasingly relied upon by parents for help with childcare and family finances, and by older children for advice and support.
Today, the Government will announce plans for a new ministerial working group to draw up details of the changes. Most significantly, ministers will rewrite the 1989 Children Act in a bid to remove any ‘legal bias’ in favour of either parent.
Fathers are not expected to get an automatic right of access written into law. But, except in cases where a child’s welfare can be shown to be at risk, courts will be placed under a duty to ensure children have an ‘equal right to a proper relationship with both parents’.
Ken Sanderson, of the group Families Need Fathers, described the decision as a ‘victory for children’.
But in an unusual move, Mr Norgrove said it was a matter of ‘regret’ that ministers were backing calls for children to be granted new rights to see both their parents in cases of separation.
He said there was a danger of repeating the experience of Australia, where the creation of a right to ‘shared parenting’ following separation led to long delays in sorting out custody disputes.