Grandparents and the Aftermath of Divorce

Before and during marriage, grandparents can provide substantial financial and emotional support to a family. Grandparents often pay for weddings, put down payments on the family home, and create college funds. In addition to lending or gifting money, grandparents also volunteer to babysit daily when both parents have to return to work. The grandparent who provides daycare often transports the children to extracurricular activities and enriches their education. Grandparents may also volunteer to take the children for overnights when the parents need a date night and time alone to nurture their relationship. During marriage, grandparents can play an integral role in child rearing. However, this potentially close and beneficial relationship between grandparent and grandchild may not be so honored upon divorce.

According to the statistics released by AARP, the average grandparent spends approximately $1,000 on his or her grandchild each year. However, despite their generosity and support, grandparents receive little protection in a divorce proceeding. Upon divorce, for a variety of reasons, one parent may limit the visitation of a grandparent. The grandparent may be prohibited from visiting with his or her grandchild while that child is in the care of one parent. The consequences of this prohibition can be devastating if the hostile parent is awarded physical custody while the other is only permitted specific visitation. This sudden change in the grandparent-grandchild relationship is traumatizing for both parties involved.

Although many grandparents attempt to intervene in divorce proceedings to assert their rights to visitation, they are rarely rewarded with victory. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Troxel v. Granville. In this case, grandparents petitioned for visitation rights after the mother limited visitation to one day per month and some holidays. The Supreme Court relied on a parent’s fundamental right under the Constitution to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children in making their decision. The Court held that requiring a parent to facilitate grandparent visitation against his or her wishes violates that parent’s right to make decisions regarding the “care, custody and control” of his or her children. Despite this particular holding, the Court did not find that visitation laws are per se unconstitutional, therefore California still allows grandparents to seek visitation rights.

In certain cases, parents are arguing that they should be required to pay less child support because the other parent is receiving support for the child from a grandparent. In order to avoid this argument, experts are dissuading grandparents to directly provide cash to help pay for the child’s expenses. Instead, they suggest the grandparent pay directly for a particular activity such as school, tutoring, or art classes. The most beneficial contribution to the child may be to create a trust or savings account that can only be used for college. Although at the time the children may not see these contributions as a fun gift from their grandparent, they will see the benefit when they are not saddled down with thousands of dollars of student loan debt.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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