A family law specialist is welcoming moves to make it easier for grandparents to apply to the courts for contact with their grandchildren.
Catherine Walker, partner and head of Birmingham law firm, Needham & James' Family Law unit, says recommendations contained in a report by the Commons Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, are long overdue.
"Grandparents, the biggest providers of non-parental child care, are often hit hard by a family breakdown, when an acrimonious break-up can result in them being frozen out of a child's life," she said.
"Whilst the Human Rights Act 1998, which enshrines the principal of a right to family life, has helped the courts to recognise the significant role that grandparents can and often do play, this is sometimes forgotten in a divorce or parental separation.
"The Children Act 1989 sets out the position in relation to contact, but grandparents are not given an automatic right to make applications."
Currently, when a grandparent wishes to pursue contact with a grandchild they must first seek the court's permission. If the court's resulting decision is favourable the grandparent is then free to proceed with a full application for contact.
This two-tier process can take a great deal of time, effort and money and recent research has shown most grandparents find the procedure incredibly stressful, especially if it is contested.
The Select Committee, in a report entitled Family Justice: The Operation of the Family Courts, has recommended that grandparents should have the right to apply for contact with their grandchildren without first having to seek the permission of the court.
The recommendation is consistent with the provisions of the Human Rights Act with regard to the right to a trial and the right to a family life.