My husband may leave me if we let our daughter have custody of our grandchildren.

Your problem is not unique to you and your husband of 17 years. The issue of grandparents’ rights has become more important as societal norms have changed and more grandchildren are being raised by their grandparents. Unfortunately, current divorce law in most states does not recognize grandparents’ rights, even when the children are clearly emotionally bonded to the grandparents, and even when the grandparents are significantly better parents than the biological parents of the children.Your situation clearly demonstrates the old adage that “no good deed ever goes unpunished.” It is obvious that you and your husband have done a spectacular job in filling in for your daughter and the father of her children who have been unable to care for the children since their infancy.

Many states have recently attempted to establish grandparents’ rights but have been overruled by the federal courts, which have routinely sided with the biological parents in spite of close emotional bonds between the grandparents and the children. This issue is often seen where the grandparents are given temporary child custody due to abuse or drug usage by the biological parents. In many instances, years pass before the biological parents are found to be fit enough to parent their children. In these instances, the disruption to the children’s lives is often dramatic with the obvious results that the children’s academic performance suffers, and children that were previously not disciplinary problems suddenly become disciplinary problems. In spite of the obvious and apparent disruption to the children’s lives, the courts have routinely ruled in favor of returning the children to the biological parents.

My experience in working with grandparents who have been raising their grandchildren is that the courts are often sympathetic to the children’s needs, and the grandparents’ dilemma. As a result, the courts will push the divorce attorneys hard to attempt to reach a settlement whereby the grandparents continue to provide a significant influence in the children’s lives. In your particular case, it would be wise to sit down with a Certified Family Law Specialist in your area who can discuss with you his or her experience with the local Judges on the issue of grandparents’ rights.

At a minimum, I would recommend speaking with you daughter about attending counseling to attempt to work out a mediated agreement whereby your and your husband’s role in the children’s lives is still significant, but it allows your daughter to develop her own parenting skills and raise her children. Given the fact that the law is clearly not on the side of grandparents’ rights, your best alternative is to attempt to reach a mediated settlement with the use of a trained mental-health professional who will clearly recognize the importance of the children’s grandparents in their lives. Hopefully, a result can be reached whereby the children will be allowed to spend an appropriate amount of time with both their biological parents, as well as with you and your husband.

The trained mental-health professional will also be able to assist you and your husband with regard to your own issues concerning his feelings of loss and abandonment when the children are not with you. You should be commended for your efforts in maintaining your solid 17-year marriage.

The short answer to your question is that I would not abandon your 17-year marriage, but I would work with a trained mental-health professional to assist your family in maintaining all of the relationships, including your relationship with your husband.


By Steven Mindel

This FAQ was first published in Divorce Magazine and is reprinted with their permission.