Once children grow up and leave home, their parents might feel that their parenting responsibilities are finished, although often the prospect of becoming grandparents is welcome. Little do such parents consider at the time that their role may well be crucial in the lives of their grandchildren.
When family relationships break down, it is often children who are the innocent victims. If the breakdown is between the parents, arrangements will have to be made for the future care of the children. Sometimes, however, the breakdown can be between the parents and the children themselves. This sometimes happens when one or other of the parents, or occasionally both, are unable to provide a safe home for the children.
Where the relationship between the parents breaks down, most parents are able to reach agreement about where their children are to live and how they will spend time with both parents. There is clear academic research which shows that children thrive much better if they continue to have a good relationship with both of their parents.
If, however agreement cannot be reached and a case has to go to court, then, unless there is good reason, in the interests of the children, why this should not happen, the court will endeavour to ensure that they have the opportunity to have a relationship with both of their parents.
There are some very sad cases where it would not be appropriate for the children to live, or even have contact with, either parent. It may be, for example, that the parents have separated and that one parent has not made any effort to see the children. In other cases, the parent with primary care of the children finds the stress of being a single parent too difficult. That parent may have become addicted to drink or drugs, with the result that he/she cannot cope.
It is not unknown for a woman to become pregnant during a short relationship. She chooses not tell the putative father and the relationship breaks down. After the birth of the child, mother is unable to parent the child, perhaps because of mental health problems or self-destructive, addictive behaviour which renders it unsafe for the child to remain with her.
In the case of the last two examples, it is likely that care proceedings will be contemplated. If that happens and if the expert view is that mother is unlikely to be able to change her behaviour within a timescale that will enable her again to parent the child, other arrangements will have to be found for the care of the child. One solution might be that the child should be placed for adoption.
The law is that a court will only make an adoption order if there is no realistic alternative. This is where grandparents often become very important.
In investigating whether there is any realistic alternative to adoption, the social workers involved in the case are obliged to see whether there are any family members who might be willing and able to care safely for the child. Adoption, of course, means that, in the vast majority of cases, there is a final severance between the natural parents and their families and the child. The child becomes the child of the adoptive parents and begins a new life in a new home with different parents. There is usually not even any contact between the child and the natural parents or the grandparents.
That is why, in appropriate cases, there will be consideration to the child living with the grandparents. The grandparents would obviously have to be willing for that to happen and of course, capable of safely and properly parenting the child.
These are life changing decisions for all concerned, most particularly for the child, whose interests the court regards as paramount, but also for the parents and grandparents. Relationship breakdown can and sadly does, strike any family, regardless of background. In this situation, early expert advice is essential.