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When Parents Divorce, Grandparents Often Help Out Without Visitation Rights

The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is special, but when divorce occurs that relationship can be strained, especially if bad blood exists between a grandparent and a parent or if the parent with custody moves out of the area. Even though grandparents often provide support to parents and grandchildren alike, they generally are not entitled to visitation rights.

According to an AARP report, grandparents are helping their children and grandchildren more than ever. On average, grandparents today spend $1,000 per year on their grandchildren and more than one-third of the time the resources of grandparents are devoted to covering the everyday expenses of their grandchildren. Despite the resources grandparents provide, the rights of grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren have become harder to enforce.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Washington state law that allowed courts to order visitation rights for grandparents if in the child's best interest. Since the ruling, many states have struck down absolute visitation rights for grandparents. In some divorce cases, the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling have complicated issues of support, especially in multi-generational families.

For example, grandparents want to help when a stay-at-home parent may need temporary financial help if the partner who earned income refuses to provide support until a child support and/or spousal support order is created. They may also want to help if their own child is not pulling his or her own weight as a parent. Such support could maintain goodwill between the divorcing families. Even if grandparents are helpful there may be no guarantee that they will get time with grandchildren. The lack of legal protection given to grandparents means that grandparents who want to be helpful should structure their assistance with the guidance of a divorce attorney.

Source: Reuters, "Grandparents, Purse Strings and Divorce," Temma Ehrenfeld, July 23, 2012

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