Grandparents sometimes have difficult family relationships with the parents of their grandchildren. The following information was submitted by a GAN member who had developed a warm and loving relationship with her grandson from the time he was diagnosed as a child. She had him sleep over and took him on trips and excursions throughout his childhood, enabling his mother to have respite time on most weekends. When he became an adult, his mother became his conservator and relocated him in housing outside of her home. The following information was submitted by his grandmother in order to offer other grandparents information and options that may be helpful in navigating a similar situation.
I want to see my grandchild ….
It is frustrating and heartbreaking when someone tries to keep you from seeing your grandchild.
Once your grandchildren become 18, a lot changes. While they were minors, their parents had more-or-less absolute control over everything. After 18, typically, the parents secure conservatorship over them. A Limited Conservatorship may be granted by the courts.
A limited conservatorship is not “complete control over everything.” The court evaluates the person who will be conserved, and tries to grant the least-restrictive control possible. States may define these differently. One right that is seldom granted to the conservator is the right to control/limit/restrict social contacts. The first thing you want to know, if you are having issues seeing your grandchildren, is whether the right to determine social contacts has been granted to the conservator. In the unlikely case that the conservator does have the right to restrict social contacts, your only choices are to try and change their minds, or try to build a case in court, with a lawyer.
In California the court requires the conservator to distribute copies of the conservatorship papers to close relatives of the conserved person – this generally includes non-custodial parents, grandparents and siblings. The conservatorship papers outline the areas where the conservator controls the rights of the conserved person. You will want to have copies. If you do not have them, you may be able to get them from the courts (you will likely have to pay for copies).
The conservatorship papers also include the address of the conserved person. What if you haven’t received copies or cannot get copies from the court? What if you don’t know where your grandchild lives? Here is the bad news: You have to find a lawyer to plead a case. And that costs money.
If the court has not granted the right to manage social contacts to the parent, then your grandchild has the right to choose to see you. But it is their right, not yours. If you attempt to make contact, and your grandchild does not want to see or talk to you, then no court in the world will order your grandchild to see you. (If your grandchild wants to see you, but lives with their parents, there may be other issues, such as trespass, involved.)
Your grandchild also has the right to receive unopened mail. So, if you cannot go to visit your grandchild and if you do have an address, I suggest you frequently send them mail – any mail. Send something that will appeal to them: the comics from the Sunday paper; a book or magazine that you know will engage them; a note or greeting card from you. Include pictures of you and of you with them, if you have those. Include your contact information: your phone number, your email, your Facebook ID. Do not try to convince them to see you if they have resisted. Just make sure they have the information. Every once in a while, send a note that says something like, “We are planning to go to the zoo, and would love it if you could come with us.” And then … just wait.
You can also stop by to drop something off and ask if they will see you.
They should have access to a phone – call them or use FaceTime, or ZOOM, etc. They do not have to take your call, of course.
If you do have personal access to them, see them frequently; take them places they like (the park, the library, a baseball game, a movie). Keep records of the contact you make with them, the things you do, etc. This could possibly be useful if you do end up in court to demonstrate your consistent involvement in your grandchild’s life, including the time before they turned 18.
Before you go to court, you may want to do what you can to try and convince the parent/conservator that your involvement in your grandchild’s life is a positive thing, both for them and your grandchild. If the parents are the conservators, you might suggest that you are offering them “respite support” by taking your grandchild. Be flexible and try to allow them to actually get a break.
If there are restrictions (dietary, geographic, etc.) that are imposed, try to respect that and ask why those restrictions are in place. This is a fine line; what if your grandchild asks for a hot dog, and the parents have a strict, “No Hot Dogs” rule? If there is not an underlying medical reason, you may be tempted … but … is this a confrontation you want to have? My personal recommendation is that you never do anything like give the grandchild the hot dog and tell them not to tell their parents!
BE persistent. Be positive. Be non-confrontational. Be present in any way you can!
Do not expect any thanks or acknowledgements from your grandchildren or their parents. Take what comes your way joyfully and always remember you are doing this for them. The give-and-take of a neurotypical “social contract” does not exist in this universe. Our grandchildren are precious beings who deserve all that we can do for them. Just keep doing anything you can to keep some kind of contact going.