Grandparent access agreement proposed in law review

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Media captionDavid Norgrove says grandparents' access to children should be part of a parenting agreement

Agreements allowing grandparents access to their grandchildren after parents split up are being proposed in a review of the law in England and Wales.

The family justice review will suggest a "statement in law" about the importance of both parents having a relationship with their children.

The interim report said such agreements should also "reinforce the importance of a relationship with grandparents".

Report author David Norgrove said the interests of children was the priority.

Currently grandparents have no contact rights in law, and the review's recommendations stop short of giving them any legal right of access.

Mr Norgrove said the law was "too blunt an instrument" and giving grandparents such rights could damage the children involved.

Out-of-court agreement

A public consultation on these proposals is now under way, while the review will make its final recommendations in the autumn.

The review's panel spent a year speaking to children, parents and those who work in family justice.

It found that the system was not working to the full benefit of the children it is designed to help.

The report calls for a simpler service for families which are separating, "aimed at helping them to focus on their children and to reach agreement, if possible without going to court".

It also recommends the use of Parenting Agreements, which would bring together arrangements for children's care after separation and focusing on where the child spends time.

It would also "reinforce the importance of a relationship with grandparents and other relatives and friends who the child values".

Other recommendations include:

  • A new Family Justice Service led by a National Family Justice Board
  • A unified family court system, streamlining services to replace the current three-tier system
  • Less reliance on "unnecessary" expert reports which can cause delay
  • Assessment for mediation followed by access to separated parents information programmes and dispute resolution to help separating parents understand the impact of conflict on the children and to reach agreement.

Mr Norgrove, a former civil servant, said the biggest obstacle he had found in the system was that "people don't work together".

"There are lots of very committed and very able people in the family justice system and we have got a lot to be proud of. But there are a huge number of institutions and people involved in it and they are not brought together into any kind of coherent system."

He added: "Family justice is under huge strain. Cases take far too long and delays are likely to rise. Children can wait well over a year for their futures to be settled. This is shocking."

In 2009, just under 114,000 divorces were registered in England and Wales.

The family justice systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland are overseen by the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive.

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