The rights of grandparents Many are cut out of contact with grandchildren

December 23, 1992|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

Bonita Durst, a 42-year-old grandmother, spent her last dollar two years ago to win custody of her allegedly abused grandson. Now, she has created a grandparents' support group to help others in similar situations.

Help All Little Ones (HALO) is designed to promote greater understanding of the relationships among children and grandparents and the visitation rights of grandparents.

"I want grandparents to know that they have rights to their grandchildren," Mrs. Durst said during a visit last week to the O'Malley Senior Center in Odenton.

Last week, Mrs. Durst visited the center to talk with 10 other grandparents struggling with visitation problems.

She told them of her battle to get custody of her grandson.

Lawyers told her she didn't have rights to her grandson, she recounted, because her son and his girlfriend were never married. Under Maryland law, grandparents may seek visitation rights to their grandchildren only after the parents divorce or one of them dies.

But county social workers helped her get custody, she said.

"I've been through the mill," Mrs. Durst said. "In Maryland I had no legal rights as a grandparent because my son and the mother were never married. I was just a thirdparty. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to turn."

Through her support group, she encourages grandparents to share their stories of despair and to lobby and rally in Washington for grandparents' rights legislation.

Jerry Wick, 62, complained that he and his wife have been unable to see their 18-month-old grandson for more than three months, since their son and daughter-in-law separated.

A Pasadena couple, who asked that their names not be used, worried that their grandchildren are being abused and said they "want to keep in close touch with the children and they want to keep in touch with us."

And Norbert and Carol Nowakowski of Hanover spoke of the stress of being unable to see their grandchildren.

"We don't want to get to the point where we're just too emotionally distressed," said Mrs. Nowakowski, 56.

Mrs. Durst agreed that fighting over grandchildren is financially disabling as well as heartbreaking.

"That's why I encourage joining a support group or creating one," she said.

Ann Remillard, director of the O'Malley Senior Center, said she frequently hears seniors talking about problems seeing their grandchildren.

"It's a big issue," she said, "You can't divorce a grandparent."

Meanwhile, Sandy Nowak, 60, of Odenton struggles daily to keep her frustration and sadness to herself.

"I haven't seen my eldest grandchild in five years," said Mrs. Nowak. "And I've never seen my youngest grandchild. What do you do when the parents are together only five miles away and they won't let you see the children?"

Mrs. Durst will speak again at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 28 at the Harundale Mall Community Hall. Information: 437-3222.

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