Life After Divorce for Grandparents

Divorce can be difficult for grandparents.Are you struggling with what to do?

Divorce is a terrible thing in most cases because it usually means that the couple just did not care anymore and or were unable to work things out either alone or with a counselor. On the other hand, it can be welcomed if a spouse was harming the other or one of the children. You might be one of the grandparents whose child has recently been through a divorce. If so, you feel left out to a great extent because you don’t know what your future role is or if you can plan on having a future with your grandchildren. Chances are you have lots of questions regarding your future relationship with your grandchildren and the parent taking care of them. Life after divorce for grandparents can be difficult just as it is for the rest of the family.


What do your grandchildren need from you?

They need reassurance of their own value and they need love. It’s tempting to think about spoiling them, but that would only cause future problems. It would also cause problems with their parents and possible alienation.

If they think they might have caused the divorce, they need to understand that they did not. If they bring up an incident they were involved in, they need to understand that their parents were experiencing problems prior to that incident.


What should you disclose to your grandchildren about their parents’ divorce?

Absolutely nothing. That is their parents’ responsibility. You have no idea of what they have been told and saying anything could confuse them. What you can do is to be the peacemaker at all times, remembering that the adult children and the grandchildren have most likely been through a series of events that were not enjoyable and that had lasting consequences. A peacemaker remains positive and “calm, cool, and collected” as they used to say.

Separation and divorce can cause problems in the extended family.


Never express any anger toward the parents and their roles in the divorce. First of all, you can’t know the whole story, and second, you can definitely believe that there are two sides to the story. Hopefully, parents will review their actions,7 learn what they did wrong and take full responsibility for them. Last, each parent has his or her own interpretation of the other parent’s actions which may or may not be correct.

If you do tread that road, you make your grandchildren very uncomfortable which adds to their anxiety. If you are able to convince them that they have a bad parent, they may experience low self-esteem. Doing this could alienate you from your grandchildren or cause them to think less of you as a person. Remember:

  • The child is not at fault and does not need to hear blame statements.
  • Generally, children love their parents and are not old enough to understand what went wrong.
  • You do not want to be responsible for causing further problems in a family that has been experiencing problems.

Grandpa is having fun with grandchild.How can I make things easier?

Do what you can to maintain relationships with your grandchildren. There are several online groups on Facebook for grandparents that you might find helpful. You just type grandparents in the search box and join a group. This gives you the opportunity to observe how others are handling the same problems you face. If yours does not come up, ask your own question and engage in a conversation with those that respond.

Continue your peacemaker role with the parent who initiated the divorce. Contact that parent and ask if he or she would meet with you to discuss your concerns about family events, holidays, and visitation. If you are not successful, ask if they would be willing to have a mediator work with both of you. Dr. Edward Kruk has also proposed mediators and family therapists to work with families denying access to grandparents, but notes that they have been resistant to recognizing the impact of alienated grandparents.

Avoid being antagonistic. Yes, I know it is hard. You hurt. You are angry and disappointed about your child’s aspirations and concerned about his or her future. And you have every right to feel like this. But you will have to discuss these feelings with someone outside of the family.


Divorce talks can result in peace.

What are the grandparents’ rights?

Generally this question applies to visiting with grandchildren. Grandparents have no legal status to visit with their grandchildren and must rely on the goodness and cooperativeness of the parents. If that fails, it is possible in all 50 states for grandparents to acquire the legal right to visit their grandchildren. You will find your state listed in an article written by the American Grandparents Association. No one likes to seek a legal resolution, so hopefully your child has at least partial custody and is cooperative in that regard.

If you decide to go the legal route, some things in your favor include:

  • You were raising your grandchildren due to a court order.
  • One or both parents have been jailed or imprisoned and you have been helping to take care of their children. Unfortunately, a court will sometimes award a guardian who does not properly take care of the children and passes them along to any and all who are willing to have them.
  • You have observed that the parent primarily responsible for them is not taking care of them properly, thus causing harm, or you have knowledge that the parent is a drug addict.
  • If you have a grandchild that does not wish to see you and you believe that you can prove the grandchild has been improperly brainwashed about an alienated parent, your child, and you are experiencing a grandparent alienation syndrome.
  • You have experienced some good times with your grandchildren.

A grandmother wanting to connect.Hopefully, you will be able to resolve your issues with your family peacefully. For additional help there is a closed organization on Facebook called Mothers-in-Law Unplugged. You apply for membership. Another organization, Grandparents Unplugged can be found on the Internet. It provides an avenue for asking questions and getting answers from anyone who believes they can help you. A third, but probably most important, is Alienated Grandparents Anonymous.

What is Grandparent Alienation Syndrome?

This is a term coined from “parental alienation” which was proposed by Dr. Richard Gardner in a 1985 article to define a situation where one parent manipulates a child, often the oldest, into believing that the other parent should be rejected for various reasons. Wanting to stay in favor with the manipulating parent, the child will not only reject that alienated parent but will also make up things about the alienated parent. In rejecting the targeted parent, the child is likely to reject the grandparents and other family members of the parent.


Divorce both solves and creates problems. Some last forever. Grandparents have to be persistent to a point when they are having problems gaining access to their grandchildren. If you have tried it all, you may have to settle for the obvious–no contact with your grandchildren. I know, it is heart breaking. It is possible that when they get older and understand some of the things that have happened, they may want to initiate contact. I know you will be grateful and will welcome them with open arms.

I’d like to know what you learned from this article and what you would like to contribute. I welcome your comments. Please see the comments section below.


12 Replies to “Life After Divorce for Grandparents”
  1. Hey Tanya!
    What a well-written article! This is a subject that more and more people are finding effects and applies to them, and to be honest there’s not much help or advice to help them either.
    I’m going through a divorce at the moment, and though I have no grandchildren, the hurt and upset within the family has caused some alienation.
    Your advice has been helpful to me. Thank you!

    • Thanks for reading my article.  I am so glad it was of some help to you.  You might run into someone who is experiencing problems like this and at least have some information and websites to pass on to them for help.

  2. From this article I have learned that divorce is a stressful situation and puts not only the parents but also the grandchildren and grandparents in a difficult situation. Grandparents are not certain whether they will be able to visit their grandchildren as they would like to. What I would like to contribute is to avoid divorce as much as possible and try to rectify the marital situation through every means possible by seeking psychological therapy and/or psychiatric evaluation and avoid animosity at all costs. If divorce is to take place, it should occur on good terms so that the relationship among all family members remains cordial.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more. Those having problems with their marriage should not even consider divorce as an option. If they can’t talk it out between themselves, they need to seek help and be willing to talk about all of their problems no matter how trivial. They also need to think back to how they felt in the beginning of the relationship and what they meant to each other at that time.

    Thanks for reading my post, Tadeusz. I appreciate your comments.

  4. A good article, Tanya. I enjoyed reading it. I find- as a person who was divorced 25 years ago, and remarried 14 years, my life status impacted not only me, but my kids and even my grandkids! The attitudes of my parents and of his also impacted my kids, better and worse. Kids are so sensitive, they need to be nurtured and loved through life challenges, not have more added on to them.
    Good advice for grandparents getting alienated, too. That has not occurred in my family, thankfully, but I know of others who have endured that pain.
    Thank you.

  5. Hi Annie, and thanks for reading my article. My parents were divorced, as was I, and now one of my children, and these were heartbreaking scenarios for all of us. They were also learning experiences which contributed largely to this article.

  6. Thank you Tanya. I think that this article is a very important one because as the population of our planet increases and as more and more grandparents live longer there is a growing chance that this situation will occur in many families.
    I like your advice not to tell the grandchildren anything or try to explain things. You really are still an outsider to some extent and you don’t know what the parents have told the kids. I think it’s better just to enjoy the grandchildren’s company and love each other and the time that you have together.
    You are right about what you said about Grandparents having no real legal status in a custody battle. You really do have to be “peace maker” in order to continue to have a relationship with the child.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks, Glenys, for reading this article. Divorce is bad enough for the children involved, and there is no need in making it any worse for them. I have made my own mistakes there and regret having done so. Our grandchildren may want a safe haven one day, and we need to keep one open for them.

  8. Great article Tanya! I work in the legal profession and see regularly the struggles that grandparents have when their children are battling a divorce. Unfortunately it usually is a battle and the grandchildren are usually caught up in it. For grandparents their worry is that they will lose their grandchildren and it is heartbreaking. If people going through a divorce would put their children first and foremost they would see and understand that the grandparents play a huge role in keeping normalcy in their lives. Very insightful and useful information!

  9. Hi Brenda, I agree with you completely! Unfortunately, there are some cruel parents out there doing what they think is best for their children, and if you try to explain that to them, they don’t seem to have the will or the capacity to care. That’s why we have to educate parents and hope they will eventually come around.

  10. Tanya
    This is a great post. One of your very best. All to often nobody is willing to the peace maker when that is what is needed most. Your advice here is priceless.

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