My son and his wife divorced and fought bitterly for custody of their 3-year-old son. Now, our former daughter-in-law refuses to let my wife and me visit our grandson. We believe she has a moral obligation to allow us to know him. What are our options?
Divorce is one of life’s most painful experiences, whether we are a party or a loved one. Unfortunately, you are experiencing the inevitable bitterness generated by the battle. Once spouses have aired dirty laundry in court, healing is difficult.
My first suggestion may be one you are not anxious to hear. Judging your former daughter-in-law’s response in moral terms is not the best approach. Examine your part in the bitter battle. How did you treat your daughter-in-law during the process? If she believes rightly or wrongly that you encouraged the situation, she may believe her position is appropriate and be reluctant to leave her son with folks who may continue to speak badly of her.
Play the peacemaker role. Although it is difficult, reach out to your former daughter-in-law in love. Determine what would allow her to feel comfortable with you in her son’s life. Enlist the intervention of a mutual friend or pastor, if necessary.
In my state, grandparents may seek court-ordered visits. But forced visits can be painful. Your grandson will sense his mother’s discomfort. Taking your former daughter-in-law to court should be your last option. You already have seen the unfortunate results. Also, there are limits on the amount of court-ordered visitation. In my state, grandparents can go to court only if they have been denied access to their grandchild for 90 days and visitation is in his best interest
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If your son has visitation or temporary custody, he should allow you to see your grandson during those visits. If that option exists, the court may not grant you any separate time. It would be unusual for your daughter-in-law to have the right to dictate who your son may allow to see the child during his custody. If she is attempting to do so, it may be that your son should seek legal assistance to eliminate that limitation.
Court battles can be expensive and lengthy
If court is your only option, be prepared for an expensive, lengthy battle. Although courts have held that grandparent visitation will be ordered if all of the contingencies are met, they also have held that a day or two a month is sufficient. Such limited contact may inhibit a healthy and normal grandparent relationship.
As you obviously love your grandson and want him to have a happy and healthy childhood, being a peacemaker may be your highest moral obligation. It will be difficult to re-establish a civil, if not loving, relationship with your former daughter-in-law. For your grandson’s sake, do everything in your power to set aside your anger and bitterness toward her. That may be your greatest gift to him.
Cynthia Holmes, attorney
Former moderator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Right or Wrong? is sponsored by the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology. Send your questions about how to apply your faith to firstname.lastname@example.org.