As a parent or a grandparent, you’re having to choose between your adult child and your grandchild. It really is a difficult situation. My potential clients, they struggle. You want to be able to help your adult child parent your grandchild. But sometimes that adult child is unable or unwilling to heed your advice. So then you have to step in and say, I need to protect my grandchild. I want my potential clients to know it is going to drive a huge wedge between themselves and their adult child, so they have to make that Sophie’s choice. They have to make that difficult call: Who am I going to choose to help protect?
Family law is a very messy area. When a husband and wife, or a man and a woman, are fighting over custody of a child, that’s one thing, but now you have a multigenerational component. I ask them to think again long and hard, what is their ultimate goal, what consequences are they willing to live with and which ones are they not? In some cases, with a parent with a substance abuse addiction and a child really being vulnerable, they do need to look at the grandchild and at the same time encourage and support the parent to get their drug treatment taken care of, to get their life together. Let them know we’re not trying to take away your child, we really are not seeking to do that, but we feel honour bound and obligated to try and protect the child.
Sometimes after a few years of the guardianship situation and as the adult parent begins to get their act together, the grandparents will ease in transition, let the child have some overnight visits with the parent, maybe even the weekend. There is a gradual transition. I tell my clients, if you’re in your 60s and you’re going to take guardianship of a 10-year-old, you’re going to have a teenager, you’re going to have one to put through college. Are you really ready to take on this commitment?
Because the worst thing in the world for the child is to no longer be living with the parent, then spend several years with the grandparent, and then have the grandparent say, I’m too old, too frail or too ill to do this, and then turn the child over at that point possibly to foster care. You’re looking at a long-term commitment with kinship guardianship. Even if you hope your adult child can recover and be a responsible person in a couple of years, don’t count on it.
Mary Ann Burmester is a family lawyer practicing in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has more than 25 years of experience in family law. To learn more about Mary and her firm, NM Divorce & Custody Law LLC, visit www.nmdivorcecustody.com.