It's one of the most dreadful fates that can befall a grandparent. Sometimes it comes in the form of an angry edict from a parent. Sometimes the visits just stop and phone calls aren't answered. Either way, it's time to face the music. You've been cut off from your grandchildren. What's your next step?
Grandparents who have lost access to grandchildren can take one of two paths. They can attempt to reconcile with the parents, or they can seek legal recourse. Before they decide, however, they need to understand the emotions common to estranged grandparents so that they do not behave irrationally. In addition, they should have a thorough understanding of the status of grandparents.
Understanding Laws About Grandparents Rights
Every one of the United States has statutes about grandparents rights, but that does not mean that all grandparents will benefit from those laws. (In fact, very few of them will.) It is not stated outright in most of those statutes, but the assumption underlying laws about grandparents' rights is this: You should gain access to your grandchildren through your children and not bother the justice system with your problems.
Obviously, if your child is deceased or is incarcerated or does not have custody, you may need help from the courts to maintain contact with your grandchildren. Even in those cases, the justice system would prefer that you solve your own problems. If your grandchildren live in what is called an "intact family," meaning that the parents are still married or are in a stable relationship, they have an almost absolute right to make decisions for their children, and that includes whether or not they should see their grandparents.
Considering these facts, for the vast majority of grandparents, the best solution is to repair relationships with the parents of your grandchildren. Apologize even if you don't feel that you did anything wrong. Refrain from criticism about how your grandchildren are being brought up, and do not volunteer advice unless asked.
Your grandchildren are not your children. No matter how much you love them, and how much you ache to have input about their upbringing, you don't get to make those decisions. The only exception is if your grandchildren are being abused, according to the legal definition of abuse. If your grandchildren are being abused, legally you must report it, just as any individual aware of the situation must do. And you are not morally obligated to defend the abusers. Just be certain that your love for your grandchildren is not causing you to mistake loving discipline for abuse.
A slightly different circumstance occurs when grandparents feel that parents are abusing alcohol or drugs. It's crucial to determine whether the grandchildren are being endangered and what steps should be taken if they are in peril. Legal counsel may be advisable.
Dangers of Surrogate Parenting
Another pattern that is readily observable follows this pattern. Parents are having a tough time due to substance abuse, economic hardship or psychological problems. They allow the grandparents to step in and become surrogate parents. Sometimes the grandchildren actually live with their grandparents. At other times the grandparents just assume the lion's share of responsibility for them. Then the parents get their act together and reclaim their rights as parents. If the grandparents are not very careful, they may end up being estranged from their grandchildren, because they still feel responsible for them and want to assume the parental role. The parents, desperate to reclaim their parental status, consciously or subconsciously act to remove the grandparents from their lives.
Getting Legal Access to Grandchildren
Sometimes all attempts to reach a amicable solution fail, and grandparents wanting access to grandchildren have no options left except for legal ones. Their chances of success vary according to the laws of the state in which the action must be taken. Usually grandparents who have been involved in their grandchildren's lives also have a better chance of success. To this end, grandparents should document their interactions with their grandchildren.
Grandparents rights have been significantly weakened since the U. S. Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville. Still, many grandparents do gain access to their grandchildren through the justice system. A good understanding of the law, competent legal counsel and good record-keeping can add up to success in the courtroom.
Grandparents who are desperate to gain access to their grandchildren may be open to legal solutions, but they should be aware that legal action will almost certainly bring an end to friendly relations between the parents and grandparents. Laws protecting the rights of grandparents exist for a reason; however, legal recourse should be considered a last resort for most grandparents.