A recent report is recommending grandparents are given legal rights to maintain contact with their grandchildren after a family breakdown or divorce.
Ministers apparently believe it is a scandal that there is apparently little or no recognition of the vital role grandparents often play in family life.
Presentyly, under the Children Act, step-parents are specifically provided for if they have lived with the children as part of the family for three years so automatically have the right to apply for a Contact Order or a Residence Order. Grandparents are left having to first apply for permission of the Court before they can make a substantive application for Residence or even Contact Orders.
The requirement for permission of the Court has always been used by the Judge as in effect a safety valve to head off applications with little prospect of success which could involve a Family Court Reporter having to speak with the children and which could also be at significant expense on the part of the resident parent.
However, where the grandparents have played a significant role in the children's lives and indeed, been involved in caring for the children, this initial hurdle has been more easily surmounted.
However, there is often the competing interest of the absent parent and it will always be the case that the children's relationship with the so called absent parent will take precedence and the grandparents' contact usually accommodated within that contact time.
Given the often vital role that grandparents play in looking after the children, they are increasingly playing a significant role in the children's lives and are significant relationships. It would be a good thing if that was perhaps recognised more easily.