I am not a grandparent, and I had only one, my grandpa Sam, who died when I was six. But I witnessed firsthand the special relationship my parents had with their grandchildren, as well as the loving, caring and fun that many of my friends are currently having with their grandchildren. I have also seen grandparents who have taken on the role of primary caregiver to their grandchildren. It is clear to me that families can be characterized in many, many different ways. What is also clear to me is that the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is the very definition of unconditional love.
What happens when circumstances change? If your son and daughter-in-law get a divorce, how will their future affect you as a grandparent? If you and your spouse get a divorce, how will that affect your own mom and dad?
In the event of a custody situation, where ability or capacity to care for a child comes into play, there are definite legal rights afforded to grandparents, especially in circumstances where a grandparent has been the primary caregiver. I am not going to delve into that scenario. Instead, let’s approach grandparent visitation from a different angle.
Take, for example, Ben and Emily who were married for 12 years and then divorced. In the State of Nevada, it doesn’t matter who caused the break-up. The Family Court Judge awarded Emily primary physical custody of the kids, and Ben was awarded the right to reasonable visitation according to a specific schedule. So far, sounds pretty typical, right? But then, Emily got a tremendous job offer in Atlanta, and moved with the kids to Georgia. Now there’s significant travel involved when Ben exercises his right to visitation. But what about Ben’s parents? What about the grandparents who adore these kids, and now they’re 2,000 miles away? Ben’s dad has physical limitations and can no longer fly on an airplane, which means that these loving grandparents are essentially excluded from watching their grandchildren grow up.
Can Ben’s parents go to court and attempt to modify the visitation order? Most likely not, and for many reasons including the expense.
What if, on the other hand, Ben and Emily had opted for mediation instead of litigation? The voices of the grandparents would have been heard, and a specific visitation plan might have ensued. A plan that included weekly “face time,” and perhaps an additional week of time in Las Vegas paid for by Ben’s mom and dad. The possibilities are limitless when people sit down together in the spirit of cooperation.
I missed the opportunity of having loving grandparents in my life, but now I always make sure the voices of extended families are heard in mediation.