The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild can be one of great joy and importance for both grandparent and grandchild. But sometimes an event such as a parent’s death, divorce or estrangement can tear families apart and alter or sever relationships. After such events, the child’s parents or guardian may block any further contact with grandparents, who may in turn have to take legal steps to maintain contact with the children they love.
Many years ago, I was working with a group of grandparents raising grandchildren and providing a support group for them. A couple came to the group one night and told their story. Their daughter had tragically died in a car accident. After the initial grieving, they found that their son-in-law no longer saw a need for his children to visit the maternal grandparents. The couple had not seen them in three months. Before the accident, they saw the grandchildren 2-3 times a month and took them on vacations, etc.
Now, they were not sure what the children had been told about why they were not visiting with them and the grandparents worried they might never see them again. At the time, there was little recourse for grandparents in this and similar types of situations.
This type of situation is devastating to children. A divorce or death of a parent is very significant but adding the loss of any relationship with maternal or paternal grandparents only serves to exacerbate their grief. It basically cuts off half of their family tree.
Our little group enlisted the help of the local state legislators and over time, a bill to establish visitation rights for grandparents was implemented in Georgia. Today, all 50 states have some type of grandparent visitation law. These statutes allow grandparents to ask a court to give them the legal right to maintain their relationships with their children’s children.
Currently, Georgia law provides that any grandparent has the right to file an action for visitation rights of their grandchild and to intervene in an action concerning custody of the child, a divorce of the child’s parents, termination of parental rights, or visitation rights of the child. O.C.G.A. § 19-7—3(b).
Grandparents also may have other rights that vary from state to state. There are many resources to help those in these circumstances including the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and their Grandparent Resource Center.
Instead of hiring an attorney, mediation can be used. In mediation, the disputing parties engage the services of a neutral third party to help them hammer out a legally binding agreement that all concerned can live with. The disputing parties can control the process and they have a chance to explain their perspectives and feelings.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, here are some strategies to help regain visitation.
Focus on effective communication. Many family disagreements are simply a result of miscommunication and damaged relationships. Look for counseling, workshops, or support groups that help you improve your communication skills so you can get the desired results.
Consider family counseling. Approach it with a “we’re all in this together” attitude and a willingness to learn and compromise.
Connect with other grandparents. Sometimes it helps just to know you are not alone and to learn from other grandparents. Consider starting an informal grandparent support group at your local school or church.
Try mediation before court. The adversarial nature of taking a family member to court can tear families apart and cause waves of damaged relationships. Most grandparents want to avoid going that far. Family counseling and mediation services are an option that families can consider when they can’t come to agreement on their own.
It may take some time to reestablish your relationship with your grandchildren, but they are worth it.
Mary Migliaro is an educator, parenting mentor and consultant who lives in Cherokee County.