For many families in these hectic times, especially where both parents work, being able to call upon other family members to assist with the day to day arrangements for the children is key. It is not unusual for both sets of grandparents to be involved in drop-off and pick-up from nursery and school and to be the trusted “free” babysitters for that “precious” night out. In many cases grandparents are the daily child care for many parents who work.
Grandparents are those adults who have lived and read the manual of parenting and who bring a wealth of experience and importantly love and support for their grandchildren. They are the ones who seem to have endless patience to play that never ending game of snap or monopoly and who build up a “special bond” with their grandchildren which is different from the bond that exists between parent and child.
When parents are going through the challenges that often arise in separation/divorce it can be difficult for grandparents and other relatives to continue to be involved in the children’s lives. This may be because one parent perceives one set of grandparents as taking sides or, because the children move out of the area bringing to an end the contact the children enjoyed with their grandparents.
Special events such as Christmas, which are hectic for families in any case, often become fraught with logistical challenges in trying to make arrangements to ensure that children see both parents over the festivities without even thinking about whether there is time for them to see, say grandparents. Such events are often those times that children look forward to, to catch up with other family members and friends. Separation often makes that impossible.
So what can grandparents and parents do?
For grandparents often the best and most difficult advice to follow is to try not to take sides and to blame your child’s ex-partner while at the time being supportive of your child. When seeing your grandchildren try not to be drawn into conversations where they seek your opinion as to who is at fault but instead try to remain neutral and reassure them that you are always there for them and that they are able to talk to you.
Often at the beginning of a separation, both parents will need space, allow them that but equally make known to both of them that you are there to support the grandchildren and want to continue to be involved in their lives. Grandparents have a unique relationship with their grandchildren and often grandchildren feel able to confide in a grandparent whereas they would not be able to feel comfortable doing that with a parent.
For parents, be mindful that for children, separation from grandparents and other relatives who have cherished and loved them may be extremely difficult and not in their best interests. Children may have difficulty in expressing their feelings, especially where they see a parent very distressed or if they are worried that by wanting to see a particular grandparent that will not be approved of. Difficult though it may be, try to maintain contact with your ex’s parents, especially where they have been involved with the care of the children. If necessary, agree ground rules such that the discussion should only be about the arrangements for the children to see the grandparents and not about the breakdown of the relationship and any issues there may be between the parents regarding their living arrangements for the children. Try to put aside time at special events for the children to see their grandparents and to continue to involve them in school events such as pantomimes for younger children and school plays for older children.
Grandparents must be aware that time with their grandchildren, following a separation of the parents, has to fit in with the parents time with the children. The exception can be during the school holidays, if the parents are working.
Grandparents are often surprised to learn that where contact has broken down with their grandchildren that they have no automatic right to see them. In such cases it is necessary for grandparents to apply to the court to be granted permission to bring an application to see their grandchildren. Once the court has granted permission, the court will then consider the application which can take time and be costly, without taking into account acrimony that court proceedings can cause. For this reason, it is always best to look at other alternative means of resolving issues.
The separating parents may be using the mediation process to help them agree upon the future arrangements for them and their children following the separation. Mediation is a voluntary process to assist separating couples in resolving issues. The mediator is an impartial manager of the process whose role is to provide information and to promote dialogue.
Grandparents can use mediation as well. A mediator who is specially trained to see the children may be very helpful as in the chaos that a separation can cause, the voice of the child is often not heard. This is not because the parents are ignoring what the children are saying. Often separating parents are so overwhelmed with their own emotions and anxieties that they are not able to fully hear what their children are saying.
Grandparents can often provide that calm and stability that children so often need at a time when it is difficult for all family members who are entering a period of uncertainty and change. Contact can take many forms and often where families move away or grandparents live far away, a phone call or email exchange or skype are just as important to keep in touch and to provide support.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.