People from Jupiter to Wellington and throughout Palm Beach County are familiar with high-conflict divorces involving themselves, friends, and relatives. However, one topic that’s not often addressed in such situations is the proper way for grandparents to act during such awkward and emotional circumstances. Florida divorce law does not authorize grandparent visitation nor does it permit grandparent custody (except under limited circumstances).
Consequently, grandparents often can only have contact when their grandchild is with their divorcing adult child. However, if their son or daughter dies before the grandchild turns 18, then contact with their grandchild will be at the sole discretion of the other spouse. Consequently, Frannie Uplander in her blog: “The Bitter Better Divorce” has provided some tips for grandparents during high-conflict divorces.
If one’s son or daughter is embroiled in a high-conflict divorce, then Ms. Uplander suggests that the following be the rules of conduct for grandparents:
- Stop demonizing the other parent. Even if the man or woman your child has married is a horrible parent with no redeeming values whatsoever, if you are demonizing that parent to the grandchild or to your adult son or daughter, the other spouse is often smart enough to pick up on this behavior. Try to put yourself in the other parent’s shoes. Would you want to be cooperative with you if you were his or her? Regardless of how much you love or hate the other parent, that person will continue to be a part of your grandchild’s life forever. Consequently, to help your grandchild, if you can’t say something good about the other parent, then say nothing at all;
- Stay out of the situation between the parents. As difficult as it may be, don’t take sides in the divorce and, if you can avoid it, don’t finance your son’s or daughter’s lengthy battle with the other parent. No good will ever come of sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong. However, if you can’t avoid either financing your child’s divorce or can’t be totally neutral, then follow the advice in Paragraph No. 1. Remember, if you encourage peace, your adult child will be more likely to be peaceful with the other parent. The less contentious the divorce and post-divorce relationship is between the parents, the more likely the parents are to cooperate with one another. A civil and respectful relationship between the divorced parents increases the likelihood that you, the grandparent, will be able to enjoy a great relationship with your grandchild;
- Always treat the other parent with respect. Even if you don’t believe the other parent deserves your respect, it is important to maintain a positive relationship with your child’s spouse (the other parent) if you want to remain in your grandchild’s life after the divorce. Respect the fact that the other parent is still your grandchild’s mother or father. Avoid conversation which badmouths the other parent to your child. Consequently, you must act as the “Switzerland” in the middle of the war of your child’s divorce; and
- Respect both parents’ boundaries with regard to your role in the child’s lives. In particular, discuss major purchases for your grandchild with both parents prior to flexing your credit card or wallet. If there is some purchasing issue that is important to the other parent, then respect that issue even if you don’t agree with it. One thing that is bound to drive a former spouse crazy is the lack of respect for their boundaries. Do not be surprised if your child’s former spouse gets offended when you buy big ticket items for your grandchild without discussing it with him or her beforehand.
In states where grandparents do not have legal rights to continue their relationship with their grandchild after a divorce has been finalized, following the above advice may prevent you from being estranged from your grandchild and may guarantee that you have a continuing and meaningful relationship with your grandchild despite your child’s stormy and highly contested divorce.