Will I ever See the Grandkids?
Rights of Grandparents: Work with Parents to Arrange Visitation with the Grandkids
Your child is getting divorced. And you’re worried — what’s going to happen to your relationship with your grandchild?
The grandparent-grandchild relationship nce is second only to that of the parent-child relationship, says
Dr. Lillian Carson, a psychotherapist and nationally renowned authority on child development, parenting and grandparenting, and author of “The Essential Grandparent: A Guide to Making a Difference and The Essential Grandparent’s Guide to Divorce: Making a Difference in the Family.”
Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, a family psychiatrist, founder of the Foundation for Grandparentingand author of several books on grandparenting, including “Grandparent Power, The Grandparent Solution”: A Book for Parents and Grandparents/Grandchildren-The Vital Connection,” describes the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren as a spiritual one that is about giving meaning to one another in a way that busier people don’t have time for. The spiritual connection bathes both grandparent and grandchild in a sea of love, health and vitality.”
When parents divorce,” says Dr. Kornhaber, it is upsetting for everyone. Being able, during this highly stressful and turbulent period, to maintain a relationship with their grandparents provides children with the continuity that is often lost in the divorce. This continuity is extremely valuable in helping children adjust to the new relationship that they have with their parents.”
According to Patricia H. Combs, a family lawyer who advocates collaborative divorce, In some cases, the divorce actually strengthens the relationship between the grandparents and the grandchildren because the divorce draws the custodial parent closer to his or her own parents.”
Ironically, many divorces might not even occur if grandparents were not so willing to step in and provide both financial and practical help, thus filling in for the missing partner and making it easier for the parents to divorce, says Dr. Carson, herself the grandmother of 10.
In addition, Combs says the parent who has custody of the grandchildren can adversely affect the grandparent-grandchild relationship by using his or her power to control access to the grandchildren. Many partners identify their in-laws as outlaws” says Dr. Carson, and elect to cut off contact between the children and one set of grandparents, the parents of their ex-spouse. According to Dr. Kornhaber, in these situations, rather than being a source of support for their children and grandchildren, the affected grandparents often conclude that their only option is to use legal action to maintain their relationships with the grandchildren. These efforts can have mixed results, says Combs.
All 50 states have some type of grandparent visitation” statute. In seeking legal redress, the grandparents’ objectives are to have the court mandate that the grandparents have the right to a relationship with their grandchildren and to establish a schedule that allows the grandchildren to spend time with their grandparents. These laws vary from state to state, however, and do not automatically guarantee grandparents visitation rights.
Some grandparents are excluded from their grandchildren’s lives for good reason. For example, if a grandparent was abusive, the custodial parent may reasonably conclude that the grandparent should not be trusted. Additionally, in some situations the parent may conclude that the grandparents will cause additional conflict. Opponents of allowing grandparents to seek court intervention believe that conflict between parents and grandparents puts the family at risk for even greater destabilization.
Because grandparents’ rights to visitation are different in each state, grandparents should consult a lawyer or conduct independent legal research to determine the laws in the state in which the grandchildren live advises Combs, whose practice is in California, a state whose law provides that courts can order grandparents to be permitted to visit their grandchildren, even if the children’s parents object.
While grandparents who are obstructed in their attempts to see their grandchildren even after a court order can seek legal recourse, Dr. Kornhaber believes that it is more sensible for grandparents to seek an agreement outside of court, perhaps using a third party to help them reach an agreement. He concludes that such an agreement, in which none of the parties feels anything was forced on him or her, is more likely to be more successful over time.
TIPS FOR GRANDPARENTS
1. Offer your support to your grandchildren. Be there to listen and provide reassurance. Remind your grandchildren that you love them.
2. Never criticize the grandchildren’s parents in front of the grandchildren.
3. Offer your help to the parents as they adapt to single life.
4. Keep your thoughts and comments about the parent’s divorce to yourself. If you must vent, talk to your spouse, a close friend or a professional.
5.If necessary, anticipate the problems that may arise after the divorce and ask to have your visitation rights included as part of the divorce agreement.
6. During the times you are not allowed to see your grandchildren, stay in touch with them by phone, e-mail or letters. Keep records of all contact in case you need proof of your relationship for the court.
7. Try to negotiate. Remind the parents that grandparents are an important part of children’s lives, despite the divorce.
8. Before you head to court to secure visitation rights, seek the help of a friend or mediator.
9. If you have to go to court, use an attorney who has experience in family law issues in the state where the grandchildren live.
10. Don’t forget how important you are and how much your grandchildren need you. When grandparents give unconditional love, it can boost the grandchildren’s self-esteem.