There's nothing more heartbreaking as a grandparent than being denied access to your grandchildren. Milly Johnson's new novel Sunshine Over Wildflower Cottage features a character who is struggling to get access to her grandchildren, and sadly this situation is far from fictional for many grandparents. Here, the author - who has many friends going through similar difficulties - offers her advice.
It is a sad fact that some parents will deny their children access to their grandparents for various reasons. Sadly, despite what you might think, grandparents do not have automatic rights to see their grandchildren. Despite the desperation this causes, it can be a huge and costly mistake for the first step of action to be engaging a solicitor to force a parent into giving you access, because the parent is likely to feel threatened and dig their heels in even further. Let legal proceedings be the very last resort and not at all if you can help it.
Grandparents do not have legal rights to see their grandchildren but parents do have legal rights to decide who their children should see, so the less inflammatory you can keep negotiations, the better. Friends of mine, who are being denied a proper relationship with their young grandson, inspired the storyline in my latest book and it’s been sad to see how heartbroken they are by the situation and terrified at putting a foot wrong. They are effectively being held to ransom by their ex daughter-in-law, after a bitter split with their son. But they have made a little headway, albeit with a lot of tongue-biting.
If there has been a nasty break-up in the family, small, tactful steps are needed to move forward, however much you might be champing at the bit. Keep a lid on those heated emotions when you make contact. Remember this about being able to have time with the child, not apportioning blame to their parents, so keep that always in focus. Gently suggest that your grandchild might benefit as much from seeing you, as you would from seeing him or her.
I would also suggest that you document every attempt you make to bridge the gap. That will help you keep a clear picture on what you have tried and what the result of your efforts has been. If you’re getting absolutely nowhere, is there a neutral third party that can act as intermediary? That could be your most effective tool. Be prepared to graciously accept any tidbit of contact which a parent allows you to keep you in the child’s life.
If all else fails and you insist on seeing a solicitor, remember this can be a long, complicated and expensive course. Do keep in mind that if such a case goes all the way to court, the welfare of the child will be the key issue, not your feelings, even if courts do appreciate the value of contact with the extended family. And if the court decides to reject your application, you’ll probably be back to minus square one with the parent.
If you are a parent denying your grandchildren access to their grandparents try and see past your own prejudices. Are you using your children as a tool to hurt? Are you wounding your children by keeping them away from their grandparents? It can be confusing for children not to be allowed to see their grandparents if they have grown close to them. Grandparents can help a child emotionally and financially and they have time to help out with babysitting and taking some pressure off you. Answer honestly: are you really being fair denying them a relationship? Do you have your child’s best interests at heart by forcing them apart?
Sadly, grandparents are reliant on the decision on the parent and where there has been a breakdown of a family relationship, it can take an infuriating age to build back up. One day there will be a landmark court case that will change the landscape of how the estrangement of children from their grandparents is dealt with, but for now the only real course is a softly softly conciliatory approach with feelings reigned in – and fingers crossed.
- To connect with other grandparents who have been denied access to their grandchildren, have a look at this Facebook community.
- For more expert advice, pick up the latest copy of Yours magazine