Grandparents Bill aims to protect family ties

New legislation to remove legal obstacles for grandparents over access to grandchildren

Many people forget the impact of a family break-up on grandparents who may be cut off from involvement in the lives of their grandchildren, according to Fine Gael deputy Derek Keating.

The Dublin Mid West TD said new draft legislation – once enacted – will make it easier for grandparents to apply for access to their grandchildren in circumstances where access is denied.

At present, grandparents have no automatic right to see their grandchildren. As a result, they must apply to court for leave before applying for access to their grandchildren.

The new Grandparents Bill 2013 will shorten this two-step process and also broadens the definition of a grandparent to take account of modern family units where parents may have had children from different partners.


“Since first being elected to the Dáil two years ago, I have been working towards having this legislation published and progressed through the Dáil,” Mr Keating said.

“The Irish family unit has changed significantly in recent years and now comes in many and varied forms. It is my view that we need to take account of this, especially where the very special bond between a grandparent and their grandchild is concerned.”

One Family, an organisation that supports one-parent families, said it regularly had queries from grandparents who felt distraught following family break-ups at being excluded from their grandchildren's lives.

“They typically don’t want to get get into the middle of a dispute between separated parents, but they do want to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren,” a One Family spokeswoman said.

“We’re finding that grandparents are increasingly playing a central role in their grandchildren’s lives, especially in areas like childcare given that both parents may be working ... that can make the situation even more difficult.”

Research commissioned by the Family Support Agency has shown that grandparents can play a key stabilising role in their grandchildren's lives following a period of divorce of separation.

A study in 2009 by researchers at Trinity College Dublin’s school of social work and social policy found that grandparents were often regarded as “anchors of stability” at times of uncertainty.

“The frequently intense desire to shelter grandchildren against what most grandparents believed to be negative consequences of their parents’ separation was a powerful motivation for many to increase or enhance their involvement in grandchildren’s lives,” the report found.

“For this reason, the grandparent-grandchild relationship arguably takes on greater significance for both parties after parental separation.”

The report also documented the “trauma of inadequate contact” among grandparents who felt excluded from their grandchildren’s lives. Usually these situations arose in the lives of paternal grandparents whose son’s former wife or partner had primary or exclusive custody of the grandchildren.

Mr Keating said he hoped the new Bill would provide for the protection of a relationship or a bond between a grandparent.

“This, in itself, is unusual in terms of legislation as our laws do not generally address such personal issues as familial bond. However, owing to the myriad forms of the Irish family unit which now exist, it is necessary to ensure that the rights of grandparents are protected.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent