Proposing legislation to help grandparents, children

By John Westbrook

courtWhen a couple with children divorces or separates, the ensuing custody battle often affects more than just the immediate family. Extended family can be impacted as well – especially grandparents, who typically long to spend as much time with their grandchildren as possible.

Marian McQuade was a housewife from West Virginia who was concerned for the lonely elderly. Marian’s vision was for grandchildren to benefit from the wisdom and heritage of their grandparents, and for grandparents to have meaningful and fulfilling relationships with their grandchildren. She served on the West Virginia Commission on Aging and the Nursing Home Licensing Board, and she also founded National Grandparents Day in 1978.

Today, Marian’s vision of meaningful and fulfilling intergenerational relationships faces a sad impediment. We at National Parents Organization of Virginia support Marian’s vision and are working to help realize it the way she intended. When a marriage ends in divorce, children most often do not have sufficient access to both parents. Children are not able to have a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with a parent they hardly see or spend time with. By extension, the grandparents of an alienated parent can’t have meaningful relationships with their grandchildren.

Women suffer as well as men in this scenario. Grandmothers suffer when separated from their grandchildren, and granddaughters suffer when separated from the grandparents they have known from their earliest memories. When it comes to grandparents, it doesn’t matter whether the alienated parent is the mother or the father.

Therefore, it is especially sad that 86 percent of children in divorced families live primarily with one parent, with the other parent designated as a “visitor” with a token amount of “visitation” allocated to them. And yet, in the overwhelming majority of cases, both parents are fit to care for their children, and children want to maintain a relationship with both parents–and their grandparents.

The good news is that we can do something about this, starting with a presumption of shared custody following separation or divorce. Shared custody means that children maintain meaningful access to both parents. While it does not mandate an exact 50/50 split, it does mean that the conversation starts there and ends with enough time spent with each parent to have fulfilling relationships with both parents and grandparents. Our current status quo falls far short of this necessity for our children.

National Parents Organization of Virginia will be submitting draft legislation to the Virginia legislature this fall, in the hope that our state can take the lead in strengthening family relationships. We can do better than an antiquated system of custody allocation that is harmful to children and grandchildren, men and women, parents and grandparents.

John Westbrook is a member of National Parents Organization of Virginia.

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