Adjusting to life after separation is a challenge for every family that goes through it. Less commonly considered is that the challenge can extend to grandparents who may have their own uncertainties as to how they should navigate this ‘new normal’.
“Separation impacts much more than just the two people involved” says Rebecca Dahl, partner at Nicholes Family Law. And as Geoff, a father and grandfather who has recently supported his daughter through her divorce told us, “you never stop being a parent”. Overarchingly, a grandparent needs to show support for the family at large, and where possible remain impartial.
On learning of his daughter and son in law’s separation, Geoff says he felt the weight of wanting to make sure he was able to give the right advice and support “but I didn’t really know what that was”. “I hadn’t been through a separation, so I didn’t have a lot of experience in what to do next. But trying to alleviate my daughter’s concerns and talk through her late night worries was just something I had to take on”.
I told her “I think you need to work out what you want from this, and then find a lawyer that is aligned with your beliefs. I’ve seen too many people fight unnecessarily, and all that ends up happening, is they lose out in the end”.
Staying connected with grandchildren while maintaining communication with the other party was a key concern. “For us, it was about ensuring we could support them both as they worked through their issues, but also we were keen to be there to support our grandkids,” says Geoff.
As Rebecca explained “The Family Law Act states that as well as their parents, children have a right to a relationship with other significant people in their life, and that includes their grandparents”. Geoff stated “We had a lot of involvement with the children of the marriage, and we didn’t want that to change because our daughter became separated. We kept up our regular involvement and time with the grandkids’ lives which seemed to help keep things somewhat normal for all of us.”
Rebecca speaks first-hand with clients everyday who are facing separation and advises that “these days there are a lot of tools to support family relationships, especially if there has been conflict. Our Family Wizard is a useful app that many families use to help work out co-parenting arrangements. It supports families when there is both good and bad communication and suggests “keep your time with your grandchildren fun and light. Have a positive attitude, and keep things low-stress. Have ideas for fun things to do that you know they will enjoy and will take their mind off any stress they might be feeling at home. Demonstrate how to stay peaceful and calm even in the face of challenges. Be a positive role model for your grandchildren”.
The challenge for grandparents comes with having to acclimatise to their family’s new sense of normal while being a constant source of support for their grandchildren. Communicating with their adult child is vital to ensure they are always on the same page.
Communication is key to gliding over any bumps that arrive. Rebecca suggests that “communicating with your extended family about what is happening is nine-tenths the real key to these things”. If you run into challenging times “there are a lot of counsellors now that offer family counselling. In these instances they will have parents, kids, grandparents etc. It can be really powerful to support positive relationships moving forward”.
REBECCA DAHL | Nicholes Family Lawyers
Rebecca is partner at Nicholes Family Lawyers. She practises exclusively in family law and has a particular interest in complex children’s matters. She has extensive experience in working with clients experiencing family violence, and helping people navigate the Intervention Order process. In addition, she specialises in family law for the LGBTIQA+ community (including egg and sperm donation agreements and co parenting agreements) and was a finalist in the Straight Ally of the Year Category at the Globe Community Awards.