The high divorce rate in the United Kingdom means that family law is rarely out of the media or the day to day lives of ourselves or someone close to us. It also means that child custody following divorces is an increasingly contentious issue.
Following a divorce, a set of parents will have the custody arrangements for their child or children arranged through the courts if they cannot reach an agreement. Family law recognises the child's right to have contact with both parents and the parents' right to have contact with their children, so apart from in cases of abuse both parents will always be legally entitled to see their child.
For grandparents though, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, the grandparents at present have no legal right to access to their grandchildren. This means that at the moment the majority of grandparents are reliant on the goodwill of the parent who lives with the child or children, or has to 'piggy-back' off the access their child receives if they are the non-resident parent.
This grey area of family law raises an interesting point. What place do grandparents have in a child's life? The answer is an increasingly important one. Changing social trends have meant that now that more parents than ever work, around a third of British families are reliant on grandparents for childcare. This figure is even higher amongst single parent families.
When grandparents play such a large role in the day to day care of their grandchildren, is it right that they should be given no formal, legal recognition in child custody cases. Research from various fathers' and grandparents' organisations has suggested that over forty per cent of grandparents lose contact entirely with their grandchildren when their parents separate. Although there are also some cases where grandparents are included in custody agreements, for example playing a supervisory role in visits between a child and an abusive or violent parent.
Presently, grandparents are still obliged to apply to the courts for permission to apply for access to their grandchildren. Increasingly, however, grandparents are receiving more legal recognition for their help and support in the child's upbringing, meaning that many are calling for a change in the law. As more and more parents rely no grandparents for daily childcare, more and more emphasis is placed on the bond between grandparents and children and campaigners hope the law will soon accommodate grandparents more fairly.