A couple of years ago, after many turbulent years of marriage, my son and daughter-in-law separated. During that time I took his side on a number of issues, and also said a few things about my daughter-in-law that, in retrospect, I should have kept to myself.
Then they reconciled. It didn't last long, but when they split up my son angrily said to her: "My Dad was right about you!" And proceeded to quote me on some of the things I said.
Which didn't help my relationship with her, as you might imagine. Now, after a bitter divorce and custody battle, she won't let me see my grandchildren. She says I can only see them during my son's visitations, but he has very limited time with them and is out of town a lot.
Do grandparents have any legal rights of visitation? What can I do to see my grandchildren?
The answer to your first question is, apparently, a qualified yes.
According to Eric Shapiro of the Toronto law firm Skapinker & Shapiro, anyone who had a "significant relationship" with the children before the divorce can bring an "application for access" before the courts - even such seemingly peripheral characters as uncles and aunts (though this is rare, he concedes).
What are your chances of success? Well, according to Mr. Shapiro, it's hard to tell. Family law is quite fluid and flexible, and the judges (whom I pity mightily and feel probably earn every penny of their salaries) have to sort out each tangled, twisted, vitriol-filled case on its own "merits."
But the litmus test is always the same: What's in the best interests of the child?
Recently there's been a fair amount of talk in the media about parental alienation syndrome (PAS), in which one parent tries to poison the child against the other, block custody, and in general use the kid as a weapon against his/her ex.
And my sense is that those working within the legal system are taking an increasingly dim view of this sort of thing. I know of at least one lawyer, Gene Colman of Toronto, who puts it up front on his website: "Any parent who wishes to use his/her kids as a weapon to punish the other spouse would be well advised to avoid even inquiring about hiring me."
If you think your daughter-in-law is maliciously trying to block your access, maybe you could grab yourself a silver-tongued legal pit bull and make an interesting and possibly groundbreaking case for grandparental alienation syndrome (which would carry the unfortunate acronym of GAS, but on this we could work).
After all, I think anyone could agree it's in "the best interests of the child" to see their grandparents. I know it's in the best interests of mine, who see their nana, granny, grandad and grandpa (each grandparent has a subtly different designation) regularly.
Mr. Shapiro did say it would help your case if you spent a significant amount of time with the child pre-divorce - especially if, like many grandparents, you have been a caregiver to your grandchildren
(My own mother, for example - "nana" - comes to look after my kids twice a week: She would easily win a GAS case, I bet, if I divorced my wife and she tried maliciously to block nana's access.)
But I think you should exhaust all other avenues first. Any honest lawyer or judge would back me up, I think, when I say: Family law is a theatre of last resort, a place to go only when all other attempts to solve the conflict have failed.
Most victories achieved in family court are Pyrrhic at best. And whatever winds up happening, you know one thing: It's going to cost you a freakin' bundle.
So why not try to solve this problem out of court?
Start by putting gentle pressure on your son to make peace with your daughter-in-law. Let's face it: Once you have a kid with someone you have to find a way to deal with them, no matter how angry you are. You'd be doing them both a favour.
Meanwhile, approach her directly, without intermediaries. Maybe attempt to broker a peace between her and your son. Explain to her, as you did to me, that when you spoke of her it was just as a parent defending his offspring - something she surely (you might say, or gently imply) could understand?
Tell her you love her children and just want to be a part of their lives, that you can impart wisdom, knowledge, ice-cream cones - and free babysitting. (Not to be sneezed at!)
If, despite your best efforts, she still refuses access then maybe yes, start flipping through the Yellow Pages looking for lawyers, grab yourself a silver-tongued legal pit bull and try to drop your GAS-bomb on her.
But if you ask me she'd have to have a heart of stone.
In the meantime, grampsy, will you promise me to be more circumspect in future in what you say about people? Because you never know when it might be reported to that person and come back to bite you in the hindquarters, as it did here.
David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.
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