Grandchild visits denied after divorce

Child Life

August 18, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

We are having difficulty getting visitation with our grandchildren in a divorce situation. Is there anything we can do about this? Is there anything we can say or do to persuade the parent to let us see our grandchildren? Are there any support groups?

-- C.R., Richmond, Va.

Grandparents in most states do have a legal right to petition the courts to visit their grandchildren, but it is rarely the best way to get access to the kids.

The fastest, cheapest and most effective approach to this heartbreaking problem usually is to do whatever it takes to get back into the good graces of the parent who has custody of your grandchildren.

"What convinced me that my ex-husband's parents should have visitation and be involved with the children was that my mother-in-law was very, very good to me," says Gloria F., a reader from Adrian, Minn. "She never made me feel that the divorce was my fault."

If hard feelings already exist, apologize for anything you might have said or done to offend, advises Pat Slorah, author of the booklet "Grandparent Talk."

"Most of the time when the grandparent is cut off there has been some criticism," explains Slorah, who founded GRAM (Grandparents Rights Advocacy Movement) in 1989 after her daughter refused to let her see her granddaughter.

If there are other children in the home from previous or subsequent marriages, grandparents can also smooth the way by offering love and attention to them, Slorah says.

And when you do visit the children, don't break the custodial parent's rules or try to swoop in and be a hero with lots of gifts or money, Slorah says.

One reader from San Francisco recommends inviting the child's parent to participate in the visit, especially at first.

"Maybe the parent is a little worried about what is going to happen," Pat Swensen says.

Another reader who went through a similar situation suggests pointing out the benefits to the child of having more people in his life.

"What we stressed was that with grandparents he would have lots of adult input and affection, and since we were all from different parts of the country, he would have exposure to different things," Dora Fox says.

Slorah agrees. "The grandparent and grandchild relationship is so special," she says. "There are no conditions on the love. The child needs someone who thinks they're fantastic."

If these efforts fail, another way to stay out of court is to seek professional mediation. This is a process in which a trained mediator helps opposing family members get beyond hard feelings to work out a visitation agreement. Mediation tends to work very well.

"If you voluntarily decide to do something, you do it," says Murray Steinberg, president of the Family Resolution Council in Richmond, Va. "If you're ordered to do something, you'll find a way to get around it."

The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) is a good place to start your research on support groups. While the AARP's Grandparent Information Center focuses primarily on grandparents raising grandchildren, the center maintains a list of general grandparenting groups in all 50 states. Call (202) 434-2296 for a contact name and number. You may also request a packet of free information on grandparent visitation rights. (You do not have to be a member of AARP.)

Many other groups in your area may be active in grandparent visitation rights. Key listings in the phone book include area agencies on aging, chapters of the Children's Rights Council, mediation services, senior centers and a university's school of social work.

Can you help?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to

Slow to talk: "Is it normal for a 17-month-old not to talk yet?" asks Ginger Thompson of Charlotte, N.C. "He points at objects when you ask where they are."

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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