Parenting

Legal Access for Grandparents – Good or Bad?

According to today’s press, the legal rights of grandparents may be strengthened in the future. The Telegraph reports that the commission set up to review family law is recommending sweeping changes.

One of these is that grandparents will be allowed to apply to the courts for access to their grandchildren. Not that they will automatically be granted access, but that they can apply for access without going through the lengthy and costly process of asking the courts for permission to do so. This would be similar to the legal situation of step-parents, who lived with a child for longer than 3 years and are able to apply for a contact order to stay in touch with their step-child.

Other proposals include that families who go through divorce will have to go through mediation, and that children may have more legal rights – so that they can decide which parent they wish to live with.

If this comes into law, then it will ease things considerably for the estimated 50% of grandparents who lose contact with their grandchildren when the parents divorce. Those who have sons are least likely to continue seeing the grandchildren.
It is clear that there are sometimes situations where there is good reason for the lack of contact – the grandparents were abusive, or disinterested, or lived far away making personal contact more difficult- but sometimes it is simply because the adults in the family were unable to patch up their differences for the sake of the children.
Whether it was the mother in law being unreasonable or the daughter in law being too precious – particularly mother-daughter-in-law relationships can be difficult. Interfering MIL who will not let her DIL raise her children as she thinks is right, or who believes that her son could have done better.
You only have to look at some of the threads on Mumsnet about mother-in-law problems to see that it is not just the grandparents who can be unreasonable. There are often threads where a new mum is being oversensitive to the comments made by her mother-in-law, or is cross because MIL allows the children to do things that she would not (which is pretty much the definition of a grandparent, in my eyes). 
Sometimes even petty arguments can get so out of hand that both sides feel there is no going back.
When there are hurt feelings from a nasty divorce, and the parents-in-law side with their son or daughter, it can make the wounded spouse decide to cut contact. 
Someone on Mumsnet wrote today, 
I do agree with the fact that no-one has rights but the children – adults have the responsibilities. The children have the right to have healthy, loving relationships. Everyone else has the responsibility to make that happen.
with which I concur wholeheartedly. And if the parents and grandparents are unable to act in a responsible manner, is it right that the law steps in and forces contact for the good of the children?
Or do you agree with the other poster who worried that sorting it out legally does not mean that the two parties are then in agreement – but that if the contact is forced, that the children will continue to be used as pawns in a game. Is it better for them to have contact with their grandparents, even when they are aware that their parent is unhappy with this, indeed is only doing it because a judge decreed it?
I am torn. On the one hand, I have so much sympathy for those who lose contact with their grandchildren, on the other hand what about the women have good reason to block contact. Or think they do. Perhaps it is good that the grandparents have the opportunity to appeal for access so that the courts can decide on what is best for the children.
We are extremely lucky in that both sets of grandparents are wonderful people who love and care for our children. Our children are close to their grandparents, despite living very far away and only seeing them a few times a year. I cannot imagine depriving them of the contact. 
What do you think? Would you welcome such a change?