Grandparents are often a victim of Divorce just like Children. They often seem to be intrinsically linked with the Ex whom has become the ogre, someone you don’t want anything to do with or anyone who could possibly be seen or deemed to be on their side. Children often refer to families becoming segmented with extended families never coming together again which they struggle to understand. ” its not me who has fallen out with them.” Extended families in particular grandparents have often been an emotional support to children prior to separation, someone they have spent a lot of time with which suddenly stops when parents separate and at a time when this emotional support is needed most.
Research from the firm Grandparents Plus found that 42 per cent of married parents admitted to arguing in front of their children despite trying not to. This prompted the firm to work together with Kids in the Middle in order to encourage couples to put their children first when seeking a divorce.
Alison Hawes, a partner at the firm, said: “While adults can speak to their divorce lawyers and get advice on what happens next, we know from research that young people, especially teenagers, often do not know where to turn to for advice once they are told the news by separating parents.
“It’s important for their future that any stress during divorce is minimised. All relationships are different and each individual divorce or separation has different issues whether amicable or not. The important thing is to seek professional advice early so that the right course of action can be agreed, especially where children are involved.”
However, while families are encouraged to think of their children when divorcing, little thought is given to the grandparents who often lose touch with their grandchildren as a result of the split. Too often grandparents take an unseen hit from divorce as they lose contact with the grandchild they love.
Mary* was 17-years-old when her parents separated. Seven years on, now aged 24, she says she can count the number of times she has seen her grandparents since the split on one hand: “It was very strange to go from seeing my grandparents almost every week, to suddenly being lucky if I saw them once a year.
“At the time, I didn’t want to know too much about my parents divorce – I was still fairly young and I believed they would be able to work through their problems. They obviously didn’t. After the split was made official my mother made it very clear she didn’t want me spending too much time with my [paternal] grandparents.”
As she still lived with her mother, Mary felt she had to abide by her wishes and cut off almost all contact with her paternal grandparents: “I think the divorce was harder on her than my dad and I didn’t want to do anything to upset her even more, so I agreed to keep my contact with my grandparents to a minimum. It wasn’t too hard physically as, after the split, we moved houses and were no longer in the same area as them. But emotionally it took its toll.
“When I visited my dad he would give me gifts my grandparents had left for me, for birthdays and Christmas and other occasions, and I would feel incredibly guilty. I didn’t feel like I had a right to accept the gifts as I had been going out of my way to avoid them in order to make my mum happy.”
Even as an adult, Mary still has very little contact with her paternal grandparents: “I don’t live with my mum anymore, but I still feel like I can’t speak to my grandparents. It’s been too long, that bridge has been burned and I don’t know how to rebuild it.”
As well as the affect separation can have on the children, National Family Mediation say not enough attention is given to the impact divorce can have on grandparents. Jane Robey, NFM’s CEO, said: “Too often grandparents take an unseen hit from divorce as they lose contact with the grandchild they love. The fact is, grandparents have no automatic right to be part of their grandchild’s life.
“Divorce can shatter grandparents’ lives as much as the couple involved, because it can mean contact with the grandchildren they love is suddenly blocked.”
A recent parliamentary answer revealed that, in 2014, there were seven applications a day by grandparents for a court order to see their grandchild after the divorce or separation of the child’s parents, bringing the total to around 2555. This was a minor increase on the 2517 applications from 2013.
NFM responded by saying the government to shoulder some of the blame for a lack of information and education about ways to settle family dispute: “Making an approach to court should be used only as a last resort by anxious grandparents. Our worry is that the huge majority of the grandparents applying for court orders in 2014 knew nothing about the alternative options available to them.
“The family court system is a huge expense to the taxpayer, and Government must bear its share of the blame for the lack of information and education about alternative ways to resolve family disputes, including family mediation. “The Government says it wants to keep family disputes out or court wherever possible. It can certainly talk the talk, but it needs to do more to walk the walk.”
Grandparents who feel unable to contact the adults who care for their grandchild can approach a mediation service for help. Family mediators can discuss with them the best way of inviting their relatives to participate in a process which is usually quicker, cheaper and far less stressful than going to court.”
Legal aid remains available for mediation.
See www.grandparentsplus.org. uk for more information or call the Grandparent contact helpline, run by Grandparents Plus on 0300 033 7015
For more information contact a member of our team or download our mediation leaflet here.