Divorce -what about the grandparents?

Divorce – what about the grandparents? When we talk about grandparents, we are talking about your parents and your spouses’s parents. It’s often assumed that when there are issues with the grandparents  not seeing the grandchildren, it’s the in-laws that miss out. This is not always the case. The trauma of family breakdown can spread far and wide with children falling out with their own parents over their divorce.

Perhaps you get on well with your parents and in-laws and if so, this post won’t really apply to you because your children will continue to enjoy the benefits of having a relationship with them. But what if you’ve fallen out with your parents or the in-laws are the bane of your life? Perhaps they were instrumental in the failure of your marriage and you cant wait to see the back of them. If you have children, your divorce will make their relationship with their grandparents more complicated.

You divorce your spouse not the family

It may seem obvious, but in the heat of relationship breakdown, adults can easily get drawn into taking sides or assuming that they are no longer welcome as ‘part of the family’. Sometimes it just takes a while for family members to get over the shock and accept the new normal. If your children have enjoyed a close relationship with their grandparents, why would you want to stop this? If you too have enjoyed being part of your in-laws family, it can be a great source of support for you too.

Children need stability

Your children need as much certainty and stability as you can offer them, particularly during your separation and divorce. Perhaps the grandparents supported you with childcare and if this is still logistically possible, let it continue. It’s good for the children to remain in consistent routines. If it isn’t possible because you and the children have moved for example, make it important to arrange for the children to visit their grandparents as soon as possible and create a routine of visits if you can. If this is difficult because of anger and emotion, consider using family mediation to help you move through these challenges. A child-centred divorce puts the needs of the children first.

Divorce – what about the grandparents?

Grandparents who are denied a relationship with their grandchildren suffer. Perhaps your children have been a significant part in their lives for years. Imagine that that is taken away from them – the grief can be overwhelming and damaging to their mental health. Grandparents do not have an automatic right to contact with their grandchildren and must ask the court for leave to apply if they wish to make an application to court. This means that the court must give them permission before they can issue proceedings. If they can show that they have a relationship with their grandchildren (and in the absence of any reason to the contrary), permission will likely be granted.

I’m a grandparent

Perhaps you’re a grandparent reading this blog because you’re looking for support because you aren’t seeing your grandchildren. Remember, you’ll need to seek leave to apply before you can issue legal proceedings. You will also have to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting). The mediator will explain how mediation works and assess whether its right for you. Mediation is often a good choice for families who are struggling to communicate. Perhaps you know what the issues are or you might not. In mediation you’ll be able to discuss concerns and put the needs of the children first.

Your role as a grandparent in these circumstances is to remain neutral. Whatever your opinions about your child and their spouse, your grandchildren don’t need to hear it. Sadly sometimes grandparents get caught up in taking sides and undermining the grandchildren’s parent – this is abusive. The safe haven that the grandchildren might expect is just a propaganda HQ. This can be more damaging to the children than the quarrelling parents themselves. The grandchildren feel even more insecure and isolated.  Encourage your grandchildren to share their hurt, anger and upset. Let them know it’s not disloyal and you won’t be angry if they say things about your own child. Talking helps children feel safe and helps them move through their painful emotions.

Let your grandchildren have fun with you – let them relax, wind down and be themselves. Grandparents offer an opportunity for children to step away from high emotion at home. 

Family lives on

Family lives on after divorce. Aunts, uncles. cousins can all feel hugely traumatised when a once close family unit parts. It doesn’t have to mean the end of ‘family’ in the wider sense though. After all, you’ve probably got some close friends you consider to be ‘family’ haven’t you? Grandparents are often the lynchpin of many families. Their role and influence on the emotional well-being of your children should never be underestimated. So during your divorce, do what you can to promote that special relationship your children enjoy.

Emma Heptonstall is a family mediator at Crombie Wilkinson Your Family First 01904 697760 – you may qualify for legal aid www.yourfamilyfirst.co.uk