It was originally billed as ‘an everyday story of country folk’, but these days The Archers – BBC Radio 4’s long running soap opera – is not afraid to tackle thorny issues that affect country and town folk alike.
The series’ five million listeners have been following an increasingly dramatic storyline involving Rob’s mental abuse of pregnant wife, Helen, reaching a climax when Helen stabbed him – an act that was witnessed by Henry, their young son. Following the attack, Henry was cared for by his maternal grandparents, Pat and Tony Archer, whilst a heavily pregnant Helen remains in custody awaiting trial for attempted murder.
However, when Henry later visited his father, Rob refused to return him to his grandparents. Pat and Tony took their case to court but it was ruled that Henry should stay with Rob, with just one day a week contact for the Archers.
Further complicating matters, is the fact that Rob is not Henry’s natural father, but was granted an official Parental Responsibility Order with Helen’s blessing. Pat and Tony can’t understand why as blood relative grandparents they seem to have less legal rights than Rob.
The storyline has now moved back to the Family Court, where the Archers are attempting to obtain contact with their grandchild.
Surjit Verdi a family law expert with Palmers, said: “In ‘soap-land’ family problems can be sensationalised but in everyday life it is also a fact that many grandparents are denied a relationship with their grandchildren, often as a result of their child’s relationship with their partner breaking down .
“Grandparents are often extremely involved with the upbringing of their grandchildren, providing free childcare for working parents, financial help, as well as a neutral environment for the child if parents are struggling to cope or are having relationship difficulties.
“Understandably, grandparents feel completely bereft if they are then suddenly denied contact as a result of a decision made by their former daughter or son-in-law.
“Whilst the law does not provide any formal rights to see your grandchildren, if contact has broken down and you are unable to negotiate a way forward, it is possible to make an application for permission to see your grandchildren under a Court Order. At that hearing, the Court looks at the relationship between you and your grandchildren, the frequency of contact, and the significance of your involvement in their lives.”
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