Dr. Samantha Davey, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, presented a paper titled ‘Grandparent Act or granny “annex”? Waiting for the Government?’ at the Family Law Reform Now conference, hosted by Birmingham Law School in September 2021. The event was organised in collaboration with the Law Commission and conference proposals will be published in a book as part of an initiative to feed into for the Commission’s 14th Programme of Law Reform.
This post offers a brief outline of Dr. Davey’s chapter.
The 21st century has been characterised by systematic social changes to the family unit and legal reforms aimed at regulating and protecting those within it. Many of these shifts in ‘familial landscape’ would have appeared ‘radical’ at the start of the 20th century. Such changes include recognition of and protection from domestic abuse, increasing emphasis on the need to place equal value upon the gender roles of men and women within the context of child welfare, especially in the wake of COVID-19.
Most of this reform has centred around the ‘nuclear’ family, however, rather than the extended family such as grandparents. This is even though grandparents have increasingly had a prominent role in 21st century family life due to longer lifespans, working mothers and as the providers of moral and practical support in single-parent families. Grandparents can thus be viewed either as ‘replacement’ figures for parents or as a valuable form of support for parents and/or children.
There has been conversation, from the academic community, non-governmental organisations and successive governments over the last decade, concerning the role of grandparents in children’s lives. Such discussion includes consideration of whether there is the need for improved protection of the grandchild-grandparent relationship via legislative reform or ‘soft law’ guidance.
Such academic excavation into the array of options has included the consideration of a legal presumption in favour of contact, the removal of a leave requirement and greater ease in obtaining legal funding and financial support (the latter being appropriate where grandparents become carers for children, with or without the explicit support of Children’s Services and/or approval of birth parents).
Dr. Davey’s chapter explores the matter in a more comprehensive manner and considers whether it is time for legal reform to reflect the diversity in family units, specifically the importance of the role of grandparents, via a ‘Grandparent’ Act, substantial reform to the public and private law regimes provided within the Children Act 1989 or an amendment or ‘granny annex’ which reflects greater ‘inclusivity’ of extended family members, namely grandparents.
Dr. Davey proposes that it is time to acknowledge the importance of the role of grandparents (and other kinship carers) and consider the ways in which the grandparent-grandchild relationship, in its myriad of forms, may be best protected via legal reform.
The chapter takes take a ‘holistic’ approach covering both private and public law matters and both procedural and substantive matters, with a focus on the grandparent-grandchild relationship, rather than the rights of grandparents per se.
Greater protection can be provided to grandparents and grandchildren via the development of an ‘inclusive’ legal framework within the Children Act 1989 which modifies the language of ‘decision-making’ (including the welfare checklist) and substantive orders (such as a parental responsibility order).