Grandparent disputes - often the most bitter and saddest of them all, by Marilyn Stowe

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It’s fair to say, I have never hit it off with Fathers for Justice. I have had my disagreements with them. They are a blunt speaking group of men and women and don’t hesitate to praise or pillory those they come across. I often found myself in the latter group. So too is Meghan Markle who they claim has removed her son Archie to Canada, as they predicted she might. Their sympathies lie entirely with HM The Queen who is now deprived of seeing her great grandchild and in that regard I agree. But my rationale differs.

A family lawyer has to be all things to all people; someone who can advise a weeping client distraught by the breakdown of a marriage he or she has not seen coming and has no wish to lose. Someone who can then an hour later, advise another, hopelessly in love but not to the person to whom they are married or living with, how to best end that relationship.

Someone who can advise that the other parent should have limited or perhaps no contact at all with children (but only for the most serious of reasons) but also someone who can advise and readily assist a client to search across the world to be reunited with their own children from whom they have been parentally alienated.

Being a family lawyer also requires the exercise of common sense, an ability to advise rationally, practically, and pragmatically within the parameters of the law. To keep an eye on costs, not allowing the pursuit of emotional decisions to rule the head and regret the day the process ever began.

It is extremely hard to be all things to all people, and frankly, it becomes even harder when the dispute involves grandparents, who are once removed from any conflict between the parents and twice removed from the children. There shouldn't be a problem with them at all. But too often, there is.

I advised pragmatically, often concluding there was nothing to be gained from a court battle except prolonged bitterness, cost and an avoidable impact on the grandchildren involved in an intractable bitter tug of war. Too much water had passed under the bridge. It was futile resorting to lengthy, aggressive, and expensive court proceedings.

Grandparent disputes weren’t always about a divorced or separated parent refusing to permit grandparental access, but often involved both parents acting in unison against one set of grandparents. It might have started off with real or exaggerated complaints by one parent against a set of grandparents but it soon involved both parents. And finally came an end to grandparental contact. It was astonishing to hear how, even throwaway comments, probably carelessly said without a second’s thought, could stick in the mind and fuel a festering sore growing to such an extent that families became implacably alienated from each other. Grandchildren too could unwittingly add to the drama - repeating comments that may or may not have been said or intended, as they were relayed back home. Children are not always reliable message carriers. But the damage was done. With both parents stacked against the grandparents, the chances of a successful outcome were reduced still further.

It was all very unpleasant, grandparent disputes in my experience the most bitter and saddest of them all.

The world is daily watching an extraordinary family breakdown publicly being played out in our country. They may be the most fascinating, iconic family in the world, their lives of pomp and privilege such that none of us can even imagine, yet underneath, despite the titles and the wealth, they are still human beings with emotions and needs exactly the same as us. The parents of a small baby have both experienced tragedy, marital, and family breakdown which has affected their own childhood and is influencing their actions right now, whether they recognise it or not. I interpret their public statements as a cry for help. On the other hand, the grandest of grandparents and great grandparents have vast political and social experience, resources, and an understanding of the dynamics of successful relationships which have even arisen out of the ashes of deadly worldwide conflicts between entire peoples.

So although time is running against them and feelings will entrench, all may not yet be lost and for all I know reconciliatory efforts are under way. It is not too late. It requires a coming together, much understanding and effort, but it will be worth it. Not least because this is about resolving as much as possible the wishes of a much loved son and grandson, who grew up handling marital breakdown, immense tragedy, hurt, and on top of it all, cruel media speculation. He doesn't want the same for his own baby and wife, for them to be different, and independently successful, but still much loved members of his own family. It is clearly difficult but it must be possible.

Otherwise it will all end as it has before, and another little boy will grow up like his own confused parents, in deep and bitterly divided households.