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July 2007 - Divorce and Your In-Laws

When you get divorced, one of the things you may be glad about is that your in-laws are technically no longer related to you. If you had a difficult relationship with them, divorce might feel like a get out of jail free card in this respect. If you have a child, however, your in-laws are and will always be his or her grandparents. The divorce does not change that relationship at all.

The Effect of the Parenting Plan
When you and your ex create a parenting plan, your primary concern is arranging a schedule that works for both parents and your child. Often one of the other unintended effects of the parenting plan is to impact when the children will be able to see their grandparents. This impacts both sets of grandparents, because it is generally weekends that parents end up splitting – the time when children would be most likely to see their grandchildren. It becomes more and more difficult for children to see their grandparents after a divorce, particularly if one parent has limited access.

Grandparent Rights
Most parenting plans do not specifically address time for grandparents. Some grandparents feel cut out of their grandchildren’s lives after a divorce – most often those who are the parents of the non-residential parent. Some grandparents even go to court to seek court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren. This is an extreme, and in most cases, this type of conflict can be avoided.

Plan for Grandparents
As a parent, your primary concern is making sure your child is healthy and happy. Grandparents are an important part of your child’s life. You may not like or respect your in-laws, but their bond with your child is real and does deserve to be supported. Unless your in-laws place your child in danger, it is usually a good idea for your child to have contact with them.

This means that you need to find time in your child’s life for those grandparents. One way to do this is to flex your parenting schedule so that your children are with your ex during scheduled events with the grandparents – family get-togethers, parties and so on.

One common problem is a non-residential parent who barely uses his own visitation, let alone takes the kids to see his parents. In this situation, you can develop your own post-divorce relationship with the grandparents and arrange times they can spend with your child. Allowing them to spend an afternoon or a day with your child every month is not going to significantly cut into your parenting time. You aren’t so selfish that you refuse to let your child spend time with friends, so why should you stand in the way of a grandparent-child relationship? You don’t punish your ex or the in-laws by standing in the way, you instead punish your child.

Develop a Role for Grandparents
Grandparents can play an important supporting role in your child’s life, and in yours as well. If you and your former in-laws can agree to not talk about the divorce or the parts of it you disagree on, you can probably agree that you want your child to be loved and cared for. Grandparents can provide a lot of love and fun for your child, and can also be very helpful to you as babysitters. With a little effort, you and your former in-laws can develop an entirely new relationship that will benefit everyone.