The breakdown of a marriage affects not only parents and their children, but extended family as well. Many grandparents form strong bonds with their grandchildren and are heartbroken when family strife impacts their ability to spend time with them.
Suing for visitation rights can also be costly for grandparents and especially tough on the children involved. While you may feel that your involvement in your grandchild’s life allows you the opportunity to “keep an eye on them,” the impact of a court case can have significant and lasting effects on a child and their family.
How can a court case harm a child?
If the situation in the grandchild’s home warrants a serious intervention, such as increased visitation or custody, grandparents should know they may be able to seek visitation rights. Involving a child in an emotionally-fraught visitation or custody case can have a lasting effect on their mental and emotional health, which may include:
- Children may feel that the situation is somehow their fault or feel pressure to choose sides, often between their parents and other family members.
- Your grandchild may be asked to discuss difficult or private family or personal matters with strangers, such social workers, legal representatives, etc.
- Financial hardship often becomes an issue, as grandparents are typically on a fixed income, and the child’s family may already be in an unstable financial situation.
- Parents may still retain their custody rights and other family members may also want custody of the child, further complicating matters.
What options exist for grandparents who don’t want to sue?
Grandparents can explore the following alternatives to taking legal action:
- Reconciliation – This is the simplest choice, in terms of avoiding legal fees and other costs. Ideally, a family should find a way to make peace for the sake of the children involved, but this isn’t always possible. Some family members may not have the emotional resources or willingness to bridge damaged relationships, making reconciliation difficult or impossible.
- Family counseling or therapy – Relations between family members can sometimes break down to the point where help from a family counseling professional is needed to get the family back on track. However, family therapy visits can be expensive and many insurance carriers cover the cost of only a portion of these visits. If the family can agree to work together to make counseling a viable option, grandparents and family members can often find a positive resolution.
- Mediation – Exploring mediation can be ideal in situations where family members need professional guidance in making decisions about their family and children. Mediation isn’t the same as family counseling-a mediator typically remains neutral and won’t provide advice, but instead provides a neutral ground for families to resolve their issues. While mediation does have a price tag, it can save thousands in court fees and result in a quicker resolution than through family counseling, or having no help at all.
Litigation for visitation rights may be the only option in certain cases (situations of abuse and neglect, drug use by the parents, if a parent becomes mentally ill, etc). As a grandparent, you should take into consideration what is ultimately best for the child and their family.