Divorce fights over “the children” damage all involved. Parenting time disputes are often the most difficult to resolve in mediation, especially if both parents assert that the other lacks parenting skills or interest in adequately parenting the children. These divorce situations undermine positive working relationships between parents and potentially positive relationships between the children and a parent (or both parents.) So many long-term litigious fights occur over parenting time. In these situations, the divorce persists well after the judgment. It is hard to get cooler heads to prevail when parenting time situations take on their own life.
Unfortunately, divorces (and other family disputes) may also undermine relationships between grandparents and grandchildren if one of the parents prevents the grandparent from seeing the grandchildren. This could damage the children if the grandparents had at least an ongoing personal relationship with the children. It could be traumatic if the grandparents established the equivalent of a parent-child relationship with the children.
Oregon allows grandparents to seek either visit with grandchildren or even custody of grandchildren through the courts. See ORS 109.119. Under the law, the courts must presume that parents act in the best interests of their children. But grandparents who have either an ongoing personal relationship with their grandchildren (as defined by the statute) or a parent-child type of relationship with the grandchildren (as defined by the statute) may overcome the presumption and ask the court to order either visit with the grandchildren or custody of the grandchildren. There are several factors that the court may consider to determine if the grandparents have overcome the presumption that a parent is acting in the children’s best interest.
This type of fight between grandparents and parents over the children may be as damaging to the children as litigation between divorcing parents. Disputes occur over whether the parents are acting in the children’s best interest or whether the parents or grandparents undermine the children may undermine all relationships with the children. It can be hard to put away hurt feelings for the benefit of the children. Yet, since the children’s best interest should be the standard by which families act, families should strongly consider mediating these situations before undermining relationships or filing for custody or visitation.
There are several benefits to mediating disputes between parents and grandparents or other family relationships over the children.
First, mediation could be a way for the adults to talk to each other about the children’s needs. When these conflicts arise, relationships are often so broken that they are not talking to each other. The mediator’s role is to facilitate conversations between the clients and allow them to share their concerns in a way that may be productive.
Second, mediation could lead to cooperative agreements and relationships, which are likely to be kept compared to court-ordered relationships.
Third, mediation can establish the boundaries that may allow relationships to be effectively reestablished.
Fourth, mediation avoids the inherent conflict associated with litigation. Going to court is adversarial – meaning that both sides are assumed to be antagonistic towards each other. Each side wants the judge to agree with their position, throwing mud at the other. This only further undermines the relationships – and it puts the children in the role of either acting as a peacemaker (which children should not do) or requires that the children take sides (which the children should not do.) Generally, litigation undermines the children’s supportive relationships, which should be protected. Children should have as many supportive relationships as possible.
Grandparents have rights that should not be lost due to the parents’ divorce. Instead of using litigation to enforce those rights, grandparents should rely on mediation with the parents to protect any positive relationships that adults have with the children.