Their daughter died — must they lose their granddaughter too?
By Susan Hoffman
Our daughter got very sick about four months after giving birth to our granddaughter. My husband and I moved into her home that she shared with her husband so we could care for the baby and our daughter. Sadly, our daughter died one year later.
Although we eventually moved back home once we were able to hire a nanny for little Isabella, we continued to be a strong presence in her life and our son-in-law’s as well.
That was until money entered the picture. In her will, our daughter had provided for her child her entire trust fund. Her husband then decided that he wanted a portion of it, and when we disagreed, he used Isabella to retaliate.
Our visits went from weekly overnights to four hours per month. In the meantime our son-in-law sought legal intervention to challenge the will. At this point we are now involved in two court battles with him, one about money and the other about visitation. In my wildest dreams I would never have thought that anything like this would happen to our family. We treated our son-in-law like a son, and he grew to love us as much as his own parents. Or so we thought.
We continue to grieve for our daughter, and now this is more than we can handle. Everything is so raw.
My question is, should we give in to his demands and somehow modify the will so that he receives a significant amount of our granddaughter’s money, or should we go forward with our fight for increased visitation?
Signed, Grief-stricken grandparents
I am so sorry about the loss of your daughter; with the deterioration of the relationship with your SIL and the potential threat of losing access to your granddaughter, no wonder you’re at wit’s end.
There seems to be a pattern with surviving spouses and their need to move on. More often than not the parent begins a campaign to distance themselves and the child(ren) from the parents of the deceased. They often meet someone and begin a new life that does not include old memories, including the grandparents. They either do not consider the child’s feelings or they simply believe they are acting in the child’s best interest.
Once again, the grandparents have choices: either give in to their demands or fight in court. It is absolutely in the child’s best interest to maintain contact with the grandparents of the deceased parent. They should not lose access to an entire side of their family.
To answer your question about giving the dad what he wants, will that guarantee that things will go back to the way they were? Is it more important that Isabella have you in her life on a consistent basis than it is for her to have the money when she grows up? Suppose you accommodate the dad, will you ask for a written visitation agreement as well?
When grandparents petition the courts for visitation, they relinquish all control to the judge; they spend a lot of money and emotional energy, and cases can drag on for months while they’re still not getting to see the child as often as they wish (or sometimes not at all). It is usually less problematic to ask for some visitation than to ask for more. The parental authority remains the foremost guideline. The bottom line is what is in the child’s best interests? Sometimes the court relies on the “harm” criteria, i.e., will the child be emotionally or physically harmed in the absence of a certain amount of visitation hours? Visitation agreements are not so easy to obtain, whether court ordered or informal.
Readers, we invite your opinions on this question: email GRAND.
Correction: In May/June 2012 the “Grandparent Support Groups” list included Pleasant Hill, CA, in error. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Susan Hoffman is the author of A Precious Bond and director of Advocates for Grandparent Grandchild Connection.