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Grandparents: the hidden victims of a family divorce

15 October 2019

When divorce or separation hit a family, the focus should be on what is best for the child or children. But there is often a hidden story; one which sees grandparents lose contact with their grandchildren. Elizabeth Coe, Chief Executive, National Association of Child Contact Centres goes into detail...

A grandfather and grandson read together

When divorce or separation hit a family, the focus should be on what is best for the child or children.

But there is often a hidden story; one which sees grandparents lose contact with their grandchildren.

This can be damaging for the child - and can be equally traumatic for the grandparents.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, over 110,000 young people will see their parents divorce every year. According to the Centre for Social Justice, the number seeing their parents separate is even higher.

In every divorce or separation, there is the potential for a child to lose contact with a mother or a father due to parents blaming each other for the separation.

A lack of contact with a parent often has a negative impact on a child, according to expert reports. This can include damage to emotional, health and educational wellbeing. These negative impacts can last into adolescence and adulthood.

It is therefore imperative that contact is maintained between parents and a child, except for in cases of risk.

What is less well understood are the negative consequences of what happens to the relationship between a child and their grandparents after a family separation.

From our experience, we know that this can also have an impact on the health and wellbeing of the grandparents, but there has been very little research done on this area. That's something we would like to see rectified.

Grandparents often have a very raw deal when parents separate, particularly the parents of the “non resident” mother or father. But so do the children who probably spent lots of time with these grandparents in the past. 

Of course, this is not to mention the aunts, uncles and cousins who are often connected via a grandparent and may all be lost to a child.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Even in the most trying of circumstances, there are ways of keeping families together.

But, let’s be clear, going to court should not come close to the top of the list of things to try!

The use of courts to establish “routine” contact arrangements is expensive and takes up time and means the most serious cases could risk being delayed due to the sheer volume of work.

Indeed, there are too many private law cases going through court, with a continued increase in private and public law cases over the last three years. 

In fact, there are far less confrontational ways of ensuring contact between parents, grandparents and children are maintained.

Child contact centres exist to help these families. These services are available immediately, reduce delay for children and are more accessible than court arrangements. Child contact centres enable parenting and grandparenting to continue after a relationship ends, ensuring children feel supported and are safe.

It is vital to remember that children are safe in accredited child contact centres. 

The National Association of Contact Centres (NACCC) accredits 350 centres nationwide with around 4,000 volunteers and 1,000 staff running these centres. 

The use of these services are significant. Indeed, over 17,000 children benefited from accredited services in the past year. This is truly a service for anyone who needs it. 

NACCC accredited child contact centres help grandparents and their grandchildren in a number of ways.

First and foremost, they provide a safe, neutral, welcoming space for children to spend time with their grandparents, and other family members.

They also provides space to ensure continuity for both children and grandparents, ensure family values can be imparted, traditions can be continued and can improve a child’s sense of belonging as family wisdom and history can be passed on.

Prior to visiting a child contact centre, there are ways that grandparents can prepare for the meeting.

It is important that grandparents do not take sides, regardless of the way they feel their own child has been treated.  

This may obviously be very difficult, but a “blame game” is not only damaging to the children but can also cause problems for the other parent, and the possible loss of the contact for the grandparents.  

Of course, it may be difficult to persuade a son or daughter in-law to use a child contact centre. If this is the case, the grandparent could draw on previous positive involvement with the child to demonstrate why they should have some contact.

It is also essential to reassure the resident parent that you are not taking sides, but love the children and want to be involved in their lives. In short, with a child contact centre in almost every town in the country, grandparenting doesn‘t have to end when a family relationship does.

For more information and to find your nearest accredited child contact centre, visit



The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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