If you are like most grandparents, you have ample evidence of your relationship with grandchildren. You probably enjoy looking at photographs and mementos, but some day these items could serve a more vital purpose. You could be in court seeking visitation with grandchildren, and these items could document the strong relationship that you have shared with them.
When we are enjoying good times, we seldom worry about the bad times that could lie ahead.
But many grandparents have discovered to their dismay that they can be cut off from their grandchildren. And that makes for a very bad time, indeed.
In the event of a divorce or other broken relationship, grandparents are often cut off from grandchildren. This is especially true when the other parent — the one who is not your child — gets primary custody. Any time that the parents of your grandchildren have a troubled relationship, you should be concerned about the possibility of losing contact with your grandchildren.
Another tragic circumstance could lead to loss of contact. If your child who is the parent of your grandchild dies, the surviving parent may cut off your access.
Death and divorce are responsible for most of the cases of estranged grandparents, but grandparents are sometimes cut off even when their grandchildren live in an intact family.
If you get caught in any of these situations, you may have to sue for visitation with your grandchildren.
Proving that you have had a substantial relationship with your grandchildren will be vital to winning your case. Sometimes mediation is ordered before court action will be taken. Documentation can be very important during the mediation process, too.
This means that your grandchildren would suffer actual harm if cut off from you. The best way to meet either standard is by documenting an extensive existing relationship with grandchildren. Although many grandparents have such a relationship, many have not documented it. Here's what you should do to prepare.
Develop the habit of saving evidence of your relationship with your grandchildren. It's especially important to save receipts that show the money that you have spent on the grandchildren, but save anything that shows time spent together and the frequency of contact. Consider the following types of documentation:
- Photographs and videos of you and your grandchildren
- Ticket stubs or receipts for events you attended together
- Records of times you took grandchildren to the doctor or provided other vital services
- Receipts for restaurant meals
- Receipts for items you bought for grandchildren, especially for necessary items such as clothing
- Copies of emails exchanged with grandchildren, or emails exchanged with parents about the grandchildren
- Records of phone calls to the grandchildren or about the grandchildren
- Records of text messages — or save text messages to the Cloud
- Copies of letters sent to grandchildren.
Now that almost all of this material exists in electronic form, preserving it is both easier and harder. Don't rely on your computer to preserve everything. Hard drives can crash. Save data on a flash drive, or print out the evidence and put it in a folder or box. Actually, it's probably best to do both. Don't spend a lot of time organizing your information. That can happen if you actually need it, and maybe you never will.
Document Your Roles
Have you served in a parental relationship to your grandchildren? Have your grandchildren lived with you? Have you provided child care on a regular basis? If so, you are in a better situation than most to claim visitation rights. Still, the burden of proof will be on you.
Save documents that show your home as the grandchildren's residence. Save records of doctor's visits, teacher conferences and other occasions in which you assumed the role of parent or caregiver.
You may also need testimony from those who have observed you in this role. Think about school personnel, medical personnel, neighbors and other with whom you have interacted on behalf of your grandchildren. Make a record of names, addresses and phone numbers so that you will be able to call upon them if necessary.
If Your Role Has Been Minimal
Some grandparents can't document an extensive relationship with their grandchildren because they were never given the chance to develop one. If the parents of your grandchildren were uncooperative, if you are a long-distance grandparent or if your grandchildren are very young, you are at a disadvantage. Still, it's important to document your attempts to establish a relationship, as well as the parents' rejection of your overtures.
Learn the Law
Ever since the 2000 Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, the burden of proof has been on grandparents to show that their grandchildren would suffer if denied contact with grandparents. That's why it's so important to be prepared.
The majority of grandparents will never be estranged from their grandchildren. But if you should find yourself in this situation, you will need some general information about visitation rights and specific information about your state.
The more you learn about grandparents' rights, the happier you will be that you have documented your relationship with your grandchildren.