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Moms Council Question of the Week: Unfettered Rights for Grandparents?

With nearly 5 million grandchildren living with grandparents, what should their visitation rights be?

In this space every Wednesday, the La Mesa Patch Moms Council poses a question and invites your wisdom—and chimes in themselves.

The council is captained by Mommin’ Around columnist Genevieve Suzuki. Other members of the Moms Council are Deena While, Linda Byerline and Tony Lawrence.

Now the question:

According to AARP, 4.9 million children under 18 live in grandparent-headed households in the United States. Nevertheless, parents usually trump grandparents when it comes to visitation rights. Do you think grandparents deserve rights to see their grandkids?

Deena While October 06, 2011 at 12:22 AM
The family unit is so diverse today that it seems to me that whoever is the supporter and takes responsibilty in the children's life should be the one with the rights...and that would be different in every circumstance.
Genevieve Suzuki October 06, 2011 at 01:10 AM
It's a difficult balance. As a parent, I wouldn't want my daughter's grandparents to be able to trump my decisions. That said, I also recognize how important they are to her life. Weighing a parent's 14th Amendment right to parent against the child's best interest re: grandparent visitation doesn't make for easy decisions. It would be my hope that all people involved consider the child's best interests, but that's not always the case. I wish I had the answer!
Karen A. Wyle October 06, 2011 at 10:54 AM
Most parents welcome grandparents' involvement in their children's lives. When they do not, that decision is likely to be the last act in a long and painful family saga. Grandparents, like everyone else, can be careless, controlling, in denial about health or substance abuse problems.... Even if the parent's decision is based on something other than the child's needs, grandparent visitation litigation is almost always tragically counterproductive. Bringing suit destroys any chance of future amicable relations between parent and grandparent, and can financially devastate the custodial family, to the child's lasting detriment.
neil taft October 06, 2011 at 12:06 PM
IT IS ALL ABOUT THE CHILDREN! Hi, I am Grandpa Neil. My son and I created CaringGrandparents.com and I did those videos to raise the awareness of EXACTLY what Genavieve, Deena and Karen say. In my book I wrote "The reality of life is that it is complicated. The reality of family life is that it is a multiple of complicated and the reality of extended family (ie. Grandparents) is that it is exponentially complicated." That being said we can't allow that to be an excuse for children suffering at the hands of misguided emotions. I won't preach, I will just say that I thank God for folks like yourselves that keep the discussion going on this issue. The answers are varied and tough but the kids are worth every bit of effort. Please keep up the conversation. Thanks, Grandpa NEIL
JS October 06, 2011 at 01:15 PM
We all agree that parents are the most important people in a child's life, and the fact is, grandparents are next in line for that honor, but not legally. Nationwide, laws regarding the rights of grandparents are almost non existent, and because of this, family courts very often take the "easy way" and say something like "because there is no law about it, grandparents must not have any rights". Sadly, this assumption often lands children in a broken foster system, and eventually adopted to strangers when there was a loving family begging to care for them, but either ignored, or pushed away, by the legal system. Of course, I am speaking of cases where parents, for whatever reason, are no longer an option. Because in today's reality, common sense must be legislated, laws need to be passed to help families stay together if at all possible. Here in South Carolina, we have a bill in the legislature to do just that, and similar legislation needs to be introduced in all states. Its just the right thing to do for the children's sake.
Karen A. Wyle October 06, 2011 at 02:44 PM
There is an unfortunate tendency to lump together grandparents suing fit custodial parents for visitation and grandparents seeking to care for grandchildren when no fit parent is available. Bills meant to assist the latter need to be narrowly drafted, and should be part of the statutory and regulatory scheme for dealing with unfit parents, as opposed to the divorce/paternity statutes governing custody and visitation.
JS October 06, 2011 at 10:34 PM
Karen, I agree with that 100%. The bill we have going here in SC is actually a short addition to the adoption statutes. Presently,grandparents and close relatives are not even mentioned in that section of the law here, but if passed, they would be given priority consideration. It is worded so that it only comes into play IF the actual parents are not an option. In this state, grandparents are not given consideration in adoptions only by virtue of the fact that they are not mentioned in the statute. There have been cases where parents tragically were killed in an accident, and children ended up being adopted to strangers in spite of the fact they were good and honest people. In that particular case, the children were in their early teens, and the parents died in a car wreck. DSS put them in foster care because there were no relatives living close by, and by the time the grandparent were able to get into the legal process, the kids were well on their way to adoption. The grandparents were completely shut out of the process mostly because they did not have a ton of money to hire expensive lawyers to fight DSS. I apologize for not having exact details on the case. I am having a hard time finding it right now. These cases are all sealed in South Carolina which makes it near impossible to monitor what the agency does.
Phylicia Mann October 08, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Grandparents who are active loving nurturing members of a family should have similar but limited rights as parents when parents are not available due to divorce or abandonment. They should have the same rights in the event of death when both parents are gone or one is unfit. It is important for children to know their family....However, I have the experience of having one of my kids grandmother's just drop out of their lives for five years without so much as Christmas or birthday card. She wanted to come see them after five years had passed and I told her no. She made her decision to abandon her grandparent role five years earlier and that was how it would remain. Ironically, her ex-husband has been allowed to develop a very good grandparent relationship with my kids because he never "wanted" to be separated from his grandchildren, he was just never allowed to come around and meet them because of all of her interference.
JS October 08, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Phylicia, as a grandparent, but even more as (I hope) a reasonable person, in a situation like yours, I would back you all the way. The ideal role of grandparents could perhaps be described as "standby parents". Bring the grandkids over and let them visit a while, and hey Mom and Dad, take a break and some time off for yourselves. Then we can spoil the kids rotten and send them home. (grin). I feel one of the most important things a grandparent can do (and sometimes the hardest) is to know when to butt out and let the parents do the parenting. My personal goal in life (as a grandparent) is to be as great, and "non interfering" as MY parents were, but still be there whenever needed (and asked for). In your situation, the ones who lose the most are the children. The grandparent - Grandchild relationship is not only very important, but one of the most enjoyable for both the grands, and the kids. If that grandmother did not have an extemely good reason, just dropping out like that was a cruel thing to do to the children and should have it's consequences. You sound like a VERY good Mom.

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