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Ensuring grandparents aren’t the unwitting or forgotten victims of divorce

Date:20 MAR 2019
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Chief Executive, NFM

Grandparents play an important part in the lives of their grandchildren, and it’s usually a positive thing if they can stay in touch with them after a separation or divorce.


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Relationship breakdown is a hugely emotional time for everyone involved, mainly those at the heart of the separation – the divorcing parents and their children. But those in the couple’s wider network are affected too: extended family members, friends, and even work colleagues can find themselves being looked to for some form of support as the divorce rollercoaster accelerates.
One group of people most affected, but often overlooked, is grandparents. When an adult son or daughter separates, the fear and risk of losing contact with a grandchild is profound.  It means grandparents are often the unwitting and forgotten victims of divorce, dependent on whatever parenting arrangements are decided upon.
It comes as a real shock to many grandparents when, after a divorce or separation in the family, they discover they have no automatic right to be part of their grandchild’s life. For some grandparents this triggers a desire to pursue a legal challenge employing a solicitor to forge a courtroom path to try to force access. Yet at National Family Mediation we are approached by hundreds of grandparents each month looking for assistance in resolving contact issues. Hundreds more – thousands in fact - could benefit from pursuing mediation.
Whilst mum and dad are wrestling with strong and conflicting emotions, the children are often flailing helplessly, not knowing where to turn for help and support amidst the turmoil. Grandparents can be the very best-placed people to help bring the children through the ordeal, offering reassurance and a calm and ‘listening ear’. Yet they are too often isolated, sometimes deliberately so, as the couple’s bitter feud escalates. 
Of course grandparents themselves experience conflicting emotions. Their overriding parental instinct means they want to steadfastly support their son or daughter who’s going through the separation. Yet in doing so they know they might be seen to be ‘taking sides’ against their soon to be ex-in-law – who might end up as the kids’ primary carer.
The role of grandparents after a separation can be immensely valuable, pivotal in fact. Children benefit from reassurance in times of change. And grandparents can help assure them that they are loved, that this isn’t their fault, and that it’s okay to talk to someone about their feelings. The grandparent can be that someone.
And they can also be instrumental in keeping communication channels between mum and dad open, encouraging their son or daughter to continue talking to each other to ensure the best possible outcomes for the children at the heart of the divorce.
They can be persuasive in encouraging mum and dad themselves to attend mediation where all the strong and often negative emotions can be managed whilst fair arrangements are put in place.
Grandparents and grandchildren can reap huge benefit from family mediation because it is often a lifeline that will ensure this precious family relationship continues well into the future.
And as they separate and start new lives apart, mum and dad can benefit from grandparent involvement in mediation too.
Our experience shows that years after the bitterness of the split has simmered, they often come to realise and be thankful that their child has kept contact with such important family members.