Every day, readers from all over the country send letters to our grandparents’ rights expert, Susan Hoffman, looking for advice. To provide our readers with a good starting point, we took the 11 most-asked questions and compiled this FAQ, with answers straight from Susan. We hope they’ll help point you in the right direction, and encourage you to keep writing.
1. I don’t like the way my SIL is raising my two grandchildren and my daughter just goes with the flow. Can I do something?
Yes, you can accept what is known as parental authority. It means parents have the right to raise children as they see fit, as long as they provide food, clothing and shelter. Your job is to offer love and support and to be there no matter what as “the net.” Avoid interfering by questioning, criticizing, or offering unsolicited advice.
2. My 18-year-old son and his girlfriend have recently gone their separate ways, even though he is about to become a father. How can I guarantee involvement in my new grandbaby’s life?
Remain neutral toward the parents, yet lend support to both. Since your son is not yet independent, the responsibility falls on you to ensure that a support and visitation order is in place, this way you will be able to see the child during his visits and hopefully avoid filing a separate petition.
3. My DIL said mean things about me on Facebook. What can I do?
You can repeat to yourself, “What others say about me is none of my business.” Confronting the issue only gives power to her words. Instead rise above it and model the behavior that you desire be directed toward you.
4. I am a recently divorced step-grandparent. Can I still see my step-grandchildren?
That’s a decision for the parents as long as they consider it to be in the best interest of their children. Grandparent rights statutes provide standing on behalf of biological grandparents. Let the parents know that you didn’t divorce them, nor the kids.
5. Where can I find grandparent rights laws for my state?
Besides Considerable.com, plenty of sites pop up during an Internet search, however the most accurate and current information can only be found by visiting each state’s official government website, where the actual statute language is published.
6. I have enjoyed easy access to my grandkids following their parents’ divorce, but will all that change now that my ex-DIL is getting re-married?
If it becomes an awkward situation to visit the children when they are with their mother and new husband, then your time may be reduced to sharing visits with your son. If his time is significantly less than mom’s, then filing a petition for visitation may be in order to sustain stability.
7. How do I initiate legal action to get visitation rights for my grandchild?
First and foremost retain a qualified attorney who specializes in grandparent visitation cases. The best way to find an attorney is to obtain personal references if possible and do your shopping in the courthouse. This will help you observe attorneys in action and diffuse your own anxiety simultaneously. If the case is not complex and the respondent does not have an attorney, then self-representation is an option with the assistance of the self-help center of the court.
8. My grandchild’s parents are abusive. What is my recourse?
If there are signs of physical abuse, then it’s your responsibility to report it to authorities in order to protect the child’s safety. This is a risk most grandparents are willing to take.
Emotional abuse is another story. Stay close by and portray yourself as an ally rather than a threat. Speaking up is not the answer, as it could make the problem worse and limit your access. The more time that you spend with the grandchildren, the more you can offset the damage the parents have inflicted and hopefully achieve a semblance of balance.
9. My daughter died last year and then my SIL cut me off from my grandchildren. What can I do to re-connect?
Surviving spouses have been known to move on. Whatever the reason (alleviating grief, anger, dislike for in-laws), they want to remove reminders of the past. Re-connection requires a multi level campaign, starting with open communication. For example, sending a ‘thinking of you’ card can be helpful. Ultimately, your goal is to demonstrate that you are asset rather than a liability.
10. I’ve been raising my four-year old granddaughter for the last two years because the parents took off. Now they want her back. What is my legal recourse?
A custody order filed with the court is the only way to prevent the child from being removed from your care. Without one, parents can pretty much call the shots. If an arrangement can’t be worked out with the parents, then filing for custody in dependency court is your next step; keep in mind the guideline is the best interest of the child. Removing a child from a parent, no matter how unfit, is not an easy achievement.
11. My grandchild was given up for adoption. Do I have rights to see her?
Unfortunately outside adoption, unlike stepparent adoption, cuts off grandparent visitation rights. However, a post-adoption contact agreement may be executed. In accordance with the terms of the adoption order, the adoptive parents and biological family member (such as a grandparent) may voluntarily enter into a continued contact agreement. It has been the finding of certain legislatures that some adoptive children benefit from contact with birth relatives.
Susan Hoffman is the creator and director of Advocates for Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, a charitable non-profit 501©(3) organization, the purpose of which is to provide resources to families, specifically grandparents, experiencing visitation issues with grandchildren. She is also the author of Grand Wishes: Advocating To Preserve The Grandparent-Grandchild Bond and A Precious Bond: How To Preserve The Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship, as well as the documentary filmmaker behind A Precious Bond. She sponsored a bill in California on behalf of grandparent rights that became law in 2007, and currently lives in Newport Beach, California. Susan is not a lawyer. Her advice is for informational purposes only.
As a service to our readers, we have established the AGATM, dedicated to ensuring the best for grandparents and their families. One goal of Association is to become a key resource for grandparents who are physically removed from their grandchildren and would like to find a way to visit them. We are providing this guide to grandparent rights in all 50 states. Should you need specific legal advice on your own grandparent rights, consult a lawyer in your home state who specializes in family law and who may know of any recent changes in your state’s laws.