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Grandparents' rights: Navigating tricky waters in family divorce

When a person's child goes through a divorce, the role of being a parent and grandparent becomes complicated. While the instinct may be to rush to your son or daughter's defense and offer parental advice, there may be better ways to help ease the transition for your loved ones.

Additionally, when there are grandchildren involved the grandparents face the risk of losing access to their grandkids should the divorce turn ugly or custody issues become contentious. Grandparents' rights are still largely being determined in Colorado and elsewhere across the nation, and are a particularly complicated form of family law. When possible, the best approach may be to preserve your relationship with your grandkids without having to ask a judge to intervene.

One mistake that parents often make is to rush to defend their child. However, joining in to criticize or threaten your son or daughter-in-law can only serve to harm your future interests. Try to keep in mind that tensions may eventually ease, and if you behave in a negative way at the beginning of the divorce process your access to your grandkids may be limited if and when your in-laws have custody. That could lead to missed birthday parties, graduation and other important life events.

Always maintain contact with your grandchildren. They need to know that you are still there for them, and having a form of consistency during this tumultuous time can help them have a sense of stability. Let both parents know that you will not take sides or speak negatively about either parent while communicating with the kids.

Try to remain supportive and open to communication with all parties. Allow either parent to vent their frustrations, but be sure to respond in a neutral way. If you are viewed as a calm and reassuring presence, you can do your best to maintain a healthy relationship with your kid and grandchildren.

In some circumstances it becomes impossible to avoid conflict with one or both of the parents. If the situation escalates and you are being prohibited from maintaining a relationship with your grandchildren, it may be time to determine what legal rights you are entitled to in this scenario. Grandparents' rights differ from state to state, and are subject to change. The best approach is to gain a comprehensive understanding of your rights in Colorado before approaching a court to protect your interests.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Grandparenting Well When Adult Children Divorce," Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., Aug. 20, 2012

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