En español │In all my years working with families, one of the issues that pains me a lot is when grandparents are kept from seeing their precious grandkids. The reasons this happens are many, ranging from family disputes to contested divorces.
Unfortunately for grandparents, there is no easy recourse. Though most states allow them to ask the courts for grandparent visitation privileges, going through legal channels can be a lengthy, expensive and adversarial proposition. That's why I always recommend family mediation to resolve these kinds of disputes.
Generally, family members participate voluntarily — though sometimes mediation is recommended or ordered by a court. During mediation, all involved parties get together — in the presence of a neutral professional — to discuss the issues at the heart of the matter. "Mediation works because families end up understanding each other's basic underlying interests, which makes it easier to come to an agreement," says Janet Mitchell, co-founder and director of EldercareMediators.com.
Finding a Mediator
Some mediators have a legal background; others have a background in family counseling. Look for one whose training and qualifications are in line with your state's requirements. You should seek out someone with solid experience. I recommend finding someone who has done at least 20 completed family mediations. If possible, talk to several mediators to find a good match for your family. Ask about location, hours and fees — usually a range of $125 to $350 per hour. You can get names through the telephone directory or search online at Mediate.com or the Association of Conflict Resolution.
A mediator can help you decide the best way to propose a mediated family meeting. When you contact a grandchild's parents, be respectful and positive. Complement them on their good parenting; confirm that you know they want the best for their child — just as you do — and that you'd like to support them. Explain your desire to have a family mediator help all of you to communicate more effectively and come to a mutually agreeable solution. Explain how mediation works. Provide contact information for the mediators you've talked with, but be open to using another mediator if they request it. Tell them you'll check back with them by a certain date after they've had time to think about it. You can make a phone call, write a letter or in some cases a mediator might contact your family directly for you.
Beginning the Process
- Find a neutral location. The mediator's office is ideal, but a family member's home is also an option. It's best to have everyone in the same room, "transformative mediation," rather than "shuttle mediation," in which family members are in separate rooms and the mediator goes back and forth. But if family members are combative and emotions cannot be contained, a shuttle approach may work.
- Identify the issues. The mediator will clarify the problem and each person's goal. All will share their perspectives, and the mediator will help form solutions that might be mutually acceptable. Remember, stay focused on what is best for the child.
- Length of time. You may resolve the conflict in one session (usually about 2-1/2 hours), or it may take multiple sessions. The length of mediation will depend upon the complexity of the issues and participants' commitment. Generally, it's a good idea to be honest and straightforward throughout the process.
Reaching a Resolution
Once you delve into a discussion about a visitation issue, you may be surprised at what's behind it. Often, these kinds of disputes stem from hurt feelings, misperceptions and lack of communication. A mediator can guide family through the emotions to get to the heart of the matter.
Sherrod Deputy, a mediator in Indiana and Arizona, recently worked with a mother whose feelings had been hurt by the grandmother, and as a result, she wouldn't let her child see her. "In that family, all the mother needed was an apology to smooth over her hurt feelings," Deputy said. "When the grandmother offered the apology, she was allowed back into the child's life. In the end, it was a win-win situation for everyone."