AS figures show seven grandparents a day are taking legal action to win contact with their grandchildren, a family lawyer and the Grandparents Association discuss why family break-ups can end in court for gran and grandad as well as mum and dad
Divorce or separation can be painful for mums, dads and children - but the split often has a traumatic effect on grandparents too.
Recent figures show an average of seven grandparents a day are applying to the courts to win contact with their grandchildren, often when an acrimonious relationship break-up has led to one parent refusing to let their ex-partner's parents see the children.
Government figures show that in 2013/14 there were 2,517 applications for contact by grandparents compared with 2,319 in 2011/12.
Marilyn Stowe, a senior partner at Stowe Family Law which has offices around the country, says the figures are shocking.
She points out that grandparents don't have an automatic right to contact their grandchildren following a separation or divorce, which is why they end up going to court.
"My granny was my best friend growing up and the idea that I might have lost contact with her if my parents had divorced is unimaginable," she says.
"But that's what happens to many grandparents. The government statistics are shocking and it's long past time family members had legal rights, subject to what's in the best interests of the child."
Stowe says that in most cases it's the paternal grandparents who face losing contact, sometimes because access is used as leverage to gain ground in other areas such as better maintenance payments, or perhaps because the child's mother feels they're interfering in the child's life.
She explains that because grandparents don't have any legal right to see their grandchildren, they have to apply for leave to be heard by the court, and this has to be granted before they can apply to see their grandchildren.
Such applications were previously called Contact Orders, but have now been renamed Child Arrangement Orders.
Stowe says that mediation is a better option than court, although many grandparents don't realise that court isn't the only avenue available.
Lynn Chesterman, chief executive of the Grandparents' Association, says that having seen her own child's relationship break down with two very young children caught in the middle, she knows it's vital for grandparents to bite their lips when it comes to taking sides in the divorce or separation.
"It's your natural instinct to stick up for your own child, but in the middle of it there are confused grandchildren.
"You have to breathe and count to 10 before you comment on anything to do with the break-up," she advises.
"Make yourself the safe place for the grandchildren to come and talk about anything.
"The only way they'll feel they can do that is if you don't take sides. It's really difficult and it has to be a conscious effort, because it goes against everything you want to do."
Chesterman says the Grandparents' Association supports many grandparents who go to court to gain access to their grandchildren, either because of their children's relationship break-up, or family feuds.
"In all cases, we advise that court should be the last resort," she says, pointing out that as well as the upset any legal action may cause, legal aid isn't available so it's likely to be an expensive process.
"Get it sorted out for the children's sake, and try everything else before court, even if it means apologising to a parent about them being upset."
As well as legal action, some grandparents will adopt subterfuge to try to see their grandchildren.
Chesterman recalls one case where a grandmother put on a burkha as a disguise so she could stand outside her grandchildren's primary school to see them.
For advice about contact with grandchildren after divorce or separation, visit www.grandparents-association.org.uk
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