Most people don’t know this but I am one of 5 million The Archers fans. At the beginning it was a casual thing, I’d listen to it if it was on in the car and I was too lazy to change the channel. I was quite happy to stop listening for over five years. But for the last two years it has slowly become a part of my life, dictating my commute times (I can’t arrive home before the end of the show!), making me anti-social (no one can be in the car with me when it’s on to prevent distractions!) and turning me into an expert on dairy farming.
Lately though the Rob Titchener/ Helen Archer story line has been very familiar to me. I think it’s fair to say all family lawyers listening would have seen (sorry – heard) the signs of domestic abuse early and would have been dreading the likely outcome. The build-up of coercive control from Rob, the outburst of violence from Helen as her only perceived way out, the subsequent arrest and trial is all consuming.
What’s really struck me, though, has been the impact on Henry and Pat and Tony Archer – Helen’s son and parents. After the incident which led to Helen’s arrest and Rob’s hospitalisation Henry was cared for by his maternal grandparents. They had known him his whole life and had always helped in looking after him. However, once Rob came out of hospital he took Henry back into his care, against the wishes of Pat and Tony, who were distraught to see their grandson go.
There has, quite naturally, been a hoo-ha by some in Ambridge about Henry being with Rob rather than Pat and Tony. Which of course leads us listeners to dislike Rob even more. Pat and Tony, despite being Henry’s blood relatives, legally have no parental rights for him. Rob signed a parental responsibility agreement shortly after his marriage to Helen and therefore has the same rights and responsibilities toward Henry, his step son, as Helen. Whilst Helen is in prison she cannot exercise her parental rights for Henry and Rob is therefore the only person who can.
Unfortunately, this scenario is relatively common. Grandparents and their grandchildren are often the unintended victims of parental separations. Grandparents do not have the same, automatic rights that parents do and are often separated from their grandchildren.
However grandparents shouldn’t despair. Just because they don’t have the same rights as parents doesn’t mean they are completely left out in the cold. There are options available. Firstly, they should consider trying to renew contact with their son/ daughter and in-laws to remind them of the benefit of their relationship for the children. If that doesn’t work, mediation is also a good option to bring everyone to the negotiating table. However, if talking and reasoning are not available to them (such as with The Archers and Rob) then the last resort is an application to the Court for permission to apply for a care arrangement order. Which Pat and Tony did this week and the Court, recognising their importance in Henry’s life, allowed them to care for Henry one day a week. This is just a first step and further hearings could increase the time they spend with Henry.
At the moment I’m on tenterhooks, waiting to see what happens. However first we’ve got to deal with village fetes, new dairy herds, competitive organic egg markets….