What Can Grandparents Do When the Family is Falling Apart?

Grandparents often play a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren and assist their children (or children-in-law) in times of need. Is there a bill that needs to be paid? The grandparents may provide additional funds to help cover the expense. Is a babysitter necessary so that the parents can both go to work? A grandparent may be asked to provide this service. If domestic violence invades the family, a grandparent may provide a haven for the victimized spouse and children until other, safer, and more permanent living arrangements can be made.

With all that some grandparents do for their children and grandchildren, it can be hurtful to learn that many states do not give grandparents many rights at all in custody or divorce proceedings. To be accurate, grandparents are often not even entitled to visitation with their grandchildren over the objections of the parents unless the grandparents themselves can establish that they had a significant and meaningful relationship with their grandchild and that severing this relationship would be injurious to the child’s wellbeing.

The Role of Grandparents in a Divorce or Custody Proceeding

As tempting as it might be to want to rush into a deteriorating marriage or relationship and fix it so as to preserve your ability to visit with your grandchild, grandparents should tread carefully into such situations. They may inadvertently cause more harm than good and further damage their opportunity to remain involved in the lives of their grandchildren. Instead, grandparents should consider:

  • Being a resource for their children: The dissolution of a marriage or break-up of a serious relationship exacts a significant emotional toll on the parties involved. The individuals involved (your child and your son- or daughter-in-law) can easily feel overwhelmed by the situation. Offer whatever help you feel you can comfortably give so that the parents can focus on ending their relationship. If you are able to provide babysitting services while the parents are in mediation or in court, offer to do so. If you know one parent or the other is struggling financially, consider offering to provide a meal. You should not feel pressured to become more involved than you are comfortable being. However, being available for the parents can help your chances are remaining involved in the lives of your grandchildren once the divorce or separation is completed.
  • Do not turn the grandchildren against their parents: Custody battles are tricky: It is hard to know how a court will rule on the issues or which parent will be designated the residential parent. For this reason, it is usually ill-advised to talk poorly about your son- or daughter-in-law to your grandchildren – regardless of how tempting this might be. If the eventual-residential parent is not your child and he or she feels as if you are attempting to alienate the grandchildren from him or her, this provides him or her with a strong reason to request that the court limit your ability to see the kids. The more neutral you remain in front of the grandchildren, the better position you will be in to remain a part of your grandchildren’s lives.

It can be very difficult to know what role you should play when your children are experiencing a break-up and your grandchildren are caught in the middle. Remember that a court will be considering what is in the grandchildren’s best interest, so the more focus and attention you place on their overall wellbeing, the better. Do not try to take sides or turn the grandchildren against one parent or the other. Simply be available to help in whatever way is necessary and you may find that your ability to participate in the lives of your grandchildren remains untouched at the conclusion of the divorce or separation.