Linda Colling: Fair deal for grandparents

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I never knew my grandparents. Both sets were dead when I was born. And none of my three sons have been blessed with knowing their grandparents either, for the same reason.

I know what a richness and great joy grandparents bring into the life of a child. I also know how for those countless warring couples use their children as pawns.

And for grandparents the loss of a grandchild is like an amputation. That’s why I am delighted that at long last they will be given legal rights to maintain contact with their grandchildren after a divorce.

It is not before time that separating parents will be expected to ensure grandparents continue to have a role in the lives of their children after they split up.

Given one in three couples divorce before their 15th anniversary, compared with one in five a generation ago, thousands upon thousands of children are missing out on the special love, caring and patient nurturing grandparents bring.

So very many grandparents have been relied upon to ferry children to school, care for them during holidays, babysit and being indispensable. Then, almost half face the heartbreak of being completely cut off and never seeing their grandchildren again.

Now their role is to be recognised in law and no matter how acrimonious a divorce, never again will they be denied the right to see their grandchildren.

Parenting Agreements will be drawn up that explicitly set out contact arrangements for grandparents. These can then be used as evidence in court if a mother or father goes back on the deal.

The recommendation is part of a sweeping review of the family justice regime commissioned by the Government.

In 2009, 113,949 divorces were registered in England and Wales. And in so many families that adds up to a grief of gigantic dimensions where a grandparent is cut out of a child’s life completely.

Grandparents play a massive role in a child’s life, especially those who are torn between two parents.

They bring stability in a child’s world that has been rocked by parents going their separate ways.

The Children Act 1989 gave contact powers to step-parents, but not grandparents. Research has suggested that, after a break-up, almost half of grandparents never see their grandchildren again and those who have sons involved in a split fare the worst.

A Whitehall source said: “Mediators will encourage parents to speak to grandparents and engage with them, while grandparents will be encouraged to contribute to the arrangements and engage with their grandchildren.”

Other proposals include spelling out in law the priority that a child should have a “meaningful” relationship with both parents.

As a child and an only one, I was at the centre of a custody battle.

For too long the needs of children have not been at the heart of the system. Now it is all changing and parents going through a divorce no matter how bitter, will have to think about how their children can be best cared for right now and in the future, no matter how uncertain a one that is.