According to Daily mail under the current Children’s Act, indirect relatives including grandparents, aunts and uncles must go through the costly legal system themselves if they want to seek a child arrangement order (CAO) – with fees often spiraling into thousands of pounds.
While the Act is under closer scrutiny; earlier this year MPs debated whether the rights of close family members should be protected by law, for now, grandparents are often left feeling helpless – and bereft – when they are abruptly cut off from a child they love.
Speaking exclusively to FEMAIL, two families have shared their stories about what it’s like to have a relationship with a grandchild ‘switched off’ when a partnership turns sour.
‘It’s like a living bereavement’: Susan Stamper, 69, from Lowick, Northants, hasn’t seen her grandchild for 20 years. Jenny Browne, 72, and her mother, Edna Cosnett, 93, say family get-togethers are no longer the same since Jenny’s granddaughter decided to stop seeing them two years ago
In May this year, figures revealed almost 2,000 grandparents were forced to go to court to win the right to see their grandchildren in 2016 – up 25 per cent.
Campaign group Fathers4Justice is backing enshrining the rights of grandparents into the law, but told MailOnline it remains cynical that the ‘Stone Age’ system will ever change.
Matt O’Connor said: ‘There are currently around one million grandparents with contact issues in the UK.
‘Grandparents go through double the heartbreak; they go through it themselves but they also go through it for their children.
How could a court system be so cruel to treat people who are coming to the end of their lives so disrespectfully by not letting them see their grandchildren?
Matt O’Connor, Fathers4Justice
‘How could a court system be so cruel to treat people who are coming to the end of their lives so disrespectfully by not letting them see their grandchildren?
O’Connor said the group had surveyed 500 grandparents affected by contact issues and 53 percent hadn’t seen their grandchildren in the last year and 28 percent hadn’t seen them in five years or more.
He added that 90 percent said that not seeing them contributed to depression, stress, anxiety and health problems while 88 percent said they worried about dying without seeing their grandchildren.
Great grandmother Edna Cosnett, 93, and grandmother Jenny Browne, 72, from New Malden, haven’t seen Jenny’s son’s daughter for nearly two years. Jenny has 11 grandchildren aged from 11 to 22 and says it’s heartbreaking to see her son suffer life without his daughter…
Says Jenny: ‘My son and his wife split up when my grandchild was three. They went to court and everything was fine for ten years.
He had an order and would see her at weekends. Suddenly, she couldn’t come to see her father anymore, we were told she was “busy” and then she was bought a puppy and we were told she “couldn’t leave the puppy”.
‘For two years, there’s been no contact. She’s nearly 15 now and she was nearly 13 when we last saw her. We’ve been back to court to try and gain access but the judge said she’s old enough to make her own decisions on whether she wants to see us.
HOW THE CURRENT DIVORCE LAWS AFFECT GRANDPARENTS
The Children Act 1989 gave step-parents who have lived as part of a family for three years the right to apply for contact, but did not extend the same right to grandparents.
That means grandparents have to apply to the courts even to be given permission to make a request for some sort of contact, a lengthy and expensive process.
However, in May this year, MPs discussed a legal change that would establish a ‘presumption’ that grandparents, uncles and aunts should have access to their grandchildren, nephews and nieces after the children’s parents split up.
The proposed amendment is supported by MPs from all parties, who said some grandparents were being accused of harassment for ‘trying to send birthday cards or Christmas gifts to their grandchildren’.
BBC presenter Dame Esther Rantzen, who campaigns for grandparents’ rights, said any new legal right would be ‘wonderful news for grandchildren’.
She said: ‘It is a relationship that matters so much and I have heard tragic stories of grandparents forced to try to prove there is a relationship. The law needs to recognize this relationship which means so much.’
Supporting the reform is justice minister Lucy Frazer QC, who said reforms were needed: ‘It is clear that the system could work better and I am keen to look into how we can improve it.’
‘We understand that she’s growing up and things would change but we send cards, we send presents, we send money and we don’t get anything back. There’s no contact at all.’
I’ve lost her. It’s so sad; we all get together and have a wonderful time. I take them all to dinner and she’s missing…
Great grandmother Edna Cosnett, 93, on not seeing her granddaughter
Great grandmother Edna, 93, reveals the impact not seeing the now teenager has had on her.
‘When we get all the children together at parties and it’s so hard. I’ve lost her. It’s so sad, we all get together and have a wonderful time.
‘I take them all to dinner and she’s missing. All my great grandchildren… and she’s not there.
‘At my age now, I want to see her. I see my grandson suffer. When he’s at these parties, he plays with the children but seeing him without his daughter…I go home and cry my eyes out.’
Adds Jenny. ‘We’ve always followed the rules. My son goes on, he’s okay but he’s very, very sad. He’s admitted to me that when he’s on his way to family get-togethers, he cries in the car. He puts on a brave face, but he has only one child and they were so close.’
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She concludes: ‘The only way to try and get back in contact would be to go to the courts again and that means going through a solicitor, which costs thousands and thousands. If you’re rich, you’re fine but we can’t afford it.’
Susan and John Stamper, 69, from Lowick, Northants, haven’t seen their grown-up granddaughter since she was three. Susan, who volunteers in a local primary school, has spent much of the last 20 years trying to contact her…
Susan Stamper, 69, from Lowich, Northants, has spent two decades battling to see her granddaughter, who has expressed a desire not to see her father’s family
Susan’s son and his nephew; she says not seeing his daughter has often left him in ‘a dark place’.
‘My son had a daughter in 1995 after buying a house and moving in with his ex-partner. While it was never ‘happy families’, for three years we saw our granddaughter.
However, in July 1998, my son came home to us when the relationship broke down and I haven’t seen her since that day.
While my son initially had a little bit of contact, we were shut out of our granddaughter’s life.
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After she moved away from where we live, I’ve tried in various ways to contact her but have never been successful.
I’ve got ten grandchildren and it’s a living nightmare. It’s a bereavement you can’t draw a line under…
Grandmother Susan Stamper
I’ve got ten grandchildren and it’s a living nightmare. It’s a bereavement you can’t draw a line under.
I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to make contact with her, from appearing on This Morning to contacting the Grandparents Association, my local MP and even writing her a letter on Facebook.
The Salvation Army did manage to make contact but she simply said she wanted nothing to do with us.
I’ve watched my son suffer for 20 years too. He’s struggled with money and although he’s been through the courts, my granddaughter is now an adult and there’s little we can do.
Last year, after a few drinks, he admitted to me that he was in “a really dark place”. He’s tried so much but it’s never worked. In the last couple of years, I’ve felt like I had to do something. Raising awareness helps me feel like I’m doing something.
I just want her to give us a chance, to meet us, to make our own mind up about her. I’ve got a case full of presents and money in the bank.
She’s missed out on so much, she’s got a huge family and because she was the first grandchild she will never be replaced, there has always been a gaping hole.’