Divorce is usually awful for not only the couple that is divorcing, but also for extended family members, especially if the divorcing couple has children and parents who are close. That special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is usually precious for both the child and the grandparents. But often that grandparent-grandchild relationship changes after divorce. Grandparents’ rights after divorce can be complicated.
There is nothing more difficult to decide, and sometimes more heartbreaking, than custody and visitation rights in cases of divorce. Most good people truly want what’s best for each child, but what is best is often difficult to figure out. During and after divorce, people can let their animosity, anger and hurt get in the way of what is actually in the best interest of the children involved.
I’m sure most new grandparents don’t even consider grandparents’ visitation rights. During those early euphoric days of being a grandparent, It’s probably not anywhere on their radar. But in today’s world where families with children break up more than any of us would want, grandparent visitation law is coming up more and more often — in the courts and in our own families.
Grandparents these days are usually healthier than in past generations and look forward to a long, good, fun, active relationship with their grandchildren. But put an ugly divorce in the picture and that grandparent/grandchild relationship can be at risk. It’s a great loss for both the grandparents and the grandchildren…and for our society as a whole.
After an adult child’s divorce, especially if it is an acrimonious, caustic divorce, some grandparents suddenly worry, “Do grandparents have legal rights to see their grandchildren?”
After divorce, Grandparents who are close to their grandchildren may wonder about their ability to see their grandchildren regularly, particularly if their son or daughter is not the custodial parent. It’s sad, because grandparents can provide a safe haven for children of divorce, especially if the grandchild’s parents are not on good terms with each other. Getting away to a grandparent’s house is often a safe haven away from all of the divorce confusion and craziness at their mom or dad’s house.
Here are some of the questions that grandparents today suddenly have to face after the divorce of their child who has children:
- Is there such a thing as grandparents’ rights?
- Where can I find out how to get grandparents’ visitation rights?
- Can grandparents petition for visitation?
- Where do I file for grandparents’ rights?
- Who decides if and when grandparents can see their grandchildren?
- Are grandparents allowed to keep their grandchildren overnight?
- Who sets the times and rules for grandparent visits?
- Do grandparents have any legal rights at all?
Can Parents Prevent Grandparents From Seeing Their Grandchildren?
The sad truth is that as grandparents, we have to abide by the rules our grandchildren’s parents and the courts decide on. If a child’s grandparents divorce, parents can make a determination that it is not good for our grandchildren to visit one of us or both of us. Or there may be rules stating that we can only see grandchildren when our child is present as well. We may have to only be with our grandchildren during our biological child’s visitation time.
In my view, that takes away some of the fun and adventure of going to Grandma Suzy’s! For several years I had a Grandma Suzy’s Sleepout on the deck for all of my young grandchildren. We ate fun snacks, watched Godzilla, went for a midnight walk with flashlights and then slept in sleeping bags out on the deck! It was wonderful and fun for all of us!
We as grandparents often do things differently from how our grandchild’s parents do things. We might let them stay up later than usual or have treats that are not allowed at home. It’s a fun, innocent reprieve away from parents when children get to spend extra time with their grandparents. In good, functioning families, grandparents can give not only the grandchildren a little break, but can give the children’s parents a break and time to be alone as well.
Everyone loses when grandparents are not in the picture of family relationships, and sometimes that is particularly true when the chaos and confusion of divorce is happening in the family.
Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights?
As mentioned above, parents have been deemed the most important deciders of what is best for their children in regards to grandparents’ visitation. What we all want is what is best for the child. Of course, there are so many variables in that equation that in some cases the lower family law courts, and even the Supreme Court, have had to rule in visitation and custody disputes.
In cases brought before the Supreme Court, the court has leaned to the side of giving parents the final say in whether grandparents can see their grandchildren and the parameters of those visits. Except in extreme cases, parents’ rights trump grandparents’ rights as far as visitation with grandchildren after divorce (either the parents’ divorce or the grandparents’ divorce). It’s one of the great losses that happens when marriages don’t survive.
Visitation Rights By State
There are some Federal laws about custody and visitation regarding grandchildren and grandparents (as well as step-grandparents and step-grandchildren and foster parents and foster children or grandchildren). Things can get very complicated in visitation decisions.
In an article about grandparents and visitation rights, the following statement was made: “And while it is true that grandparents in all 50 states have certain rights with regard to grandchildren, those rights are seldom as robust or as straightforward as grandparents think they should be. That’s because grandparent visitation statutes are part of state law.” More information about these state laws can be found at Grandparent Visitation Rights By State
Can Grandparents Petition For Visitation Rights?
Yes, grandparents can petition for visitation rights. Even though there are Federal Laws in place for child custody and visitation after divorce, grandparents may have to petition for those rights in the state where the grandchild lives. Every state has its own rules, so the best place to start if you want to formally petition for visitation rights is either through the court in the jurisdiction where your grandchild lives or through a local mediator or family law attorney who can direct you through the process.
As an example, here is a link to how that visitation petition process works in the state of Missouri where I live.
How To Stop Grandparents Visitation Rights
Sometimes during divorce, the warring parents (or grandparents) can get so vitriolic and nasty that it would not be good for grandchildren to be exposed to that turmoil and danger. Either parent can let their attorney or a mediator or a representative of the court know when they feel a parent or grandparent should not be allowed time or physical access to their children or grandchildren.
There are cases where parents do not want either one or both sets of grandparents to be able to demand weekends or extended time with their grandchildren. Grandparents are at the mercy of their child and their child’s spouse or ex-spouse about time allowed with their grandchildren.
The child’s parents must alert the court to the fact that they want to stop grandparent’s visitation rights. Often, parents must also alert schools and daycare providers if grandparents are not allowed to pick up their grandchildren from school. Most schools have a list of approved people who can sign a child out.
In worst case scenarios a situation of grandparents threatening the court might arise, and that usually doesn’t end well for anyone … parents, grandparents, or especially the children. Even though there are extreme cases where grandparents should petition for custody, most often the courts are going to side with the parents.
At the same time, I know of families who successfully have extended family gatherings with both grandparents in attendance with no trouble at all. When things like christenings, graduations, school or sporting events happen, grandparents have a right to attend unless one or another of the parents think it is not safe or wise to have grandparents in attendance.
Can Grandparents Obtain Custody?
In cases of child endangerment and child abuse, often grandparents, if they are willing and able, are granted custody of their grandchildren. Grandparents are often the most logical choice as an alternative safe place for grandchildren in cases of family situations where the mother and/or father is incapable of providing a safe and nurturing environment for their children.
A formal custody hearing is usually directed by the Family Services part of the Court or by an approved mediator who is appointed to represent the children. The rules and directives of these hearings can differ in every state, but all states have safety plans in place that focus on what is best for the children in these difficult circumstances.
What Happens When Grandparents Divorce?
When I first realized our midlife divorce was really going to happen, I was sick that our grandchildren would no longer be coming to our house to visit. They would be coming to my house, and then they would be going to be with their grandpa at a different place at a different time. I hated that. In some cases, grandparents have to worry if either grandparent can have visitation with their grandchildren at all.
When divorce became a reality for me, we already had grandchildren coming along. I had always been excited about being a grandparent! My children had the benefit of good strong grandparents on both sides of the family. Parents deal with the day-to-day teaching and care of their children. Grandparents have the privilege of being able to share fun and wisdom and knowledge that parents sometimes simply don’t have time for in the busy, busy day-to day-care of their children.
Our society will feel the loss of grandparents’ influence especially when grandparents divorce and then are focused on re-establishing their own lives and new relationships instead of their grandchildren’s lives. When grandparents marry again after divorce, our grandchildren have to deal with new step-grandparents, and our own children often don’t have the benefit of two parents who are working together for the benefit of their grandchildren.
Grandchildren also may have to deal with not only splitting up their time between their mom and dad’s house, but then two different households for their grandparents as well. It’s heartbreaking.
When grandparents divorce, I think their influence is less than it would have been if they were still together. They are often distracted by their own issues and everything becomes even more complicated both for their children and grandchildren. Again, that is a great loss for everyone, that will be felt far into the future. All the more reason to try everything we can to avoid divorce in the first place.
If divorce was unavoidable and that is where we find ourselves, as grandparents we still need to focus on how we can best help our children and how we can best be there for our grandchildren. Remember, it’s not a contest to see who can do the most fun, most expensive things for our grandchildren. It’s being a strong, good, steady presence in their lives in every way we can.