When you get a divorce, you probably want a clean break. When you and your ex husband share children in common, though, the break is really never quite as clean as you might wish. After all, the kids won’t raise themselves!
Regardless of your feelings towards your ex or the way you choose to coparent together, there’s no question that things – lots of things, in fact – will change. One of the big changes you’ll probably experience relates to your in laws. Specifically, what do you do with them? Do they have any rights? Do you have to be accommodating to their requests to see your children? What if they file custody and visitation petitions?
To put it super simply: grandparents do not have any specific legal rights to their grandchildren, especially in cases where mom and dad agree about the role that they should occupy.
I’ve seen lots of agreements where the parties explicitly agree not to leave the children alone in the care of a mother in law or some other similar person. You might be surprised how often the parties BOTH agree that a particular person is a problem. They may say that the person can’t see the children at all, or that any time she sees them has to be supervised. There’s no limits to the conditions that the parents can impose on the visitation of their children if they both agree to set the specific conditions. It happens frequently, too.
In cases where the parties DO NOT agree, it’s usually up to the parent who wants to allow visitation to do so on his or her own time. So, if you’re the primary physical custodian, there’s a lot of time that you’d be able to restrict that visitation anyway. You’re under absolutely no obligation to allow your mother in law, or whoever the problem person is, to see the children while they’re under your care and supervision. If you tell her that, it’s completely fine.
That’s not to say that it still wouldn’t make for a particularly stressful situation. If she keeps asking and asking, it would be aggravating and frustrating. But a grandmother – or whoever the person is – has no rights to the child under the law. Sure, they may have a relationship with the child, but it’s up to the parents to make the calls while the children are in their care.
So, what if the grandparent files a petition for custody and visitation?
The grandmother – or grandfather or whoever – can file a petition, and you may have to defend against it if they do. That DOES mean time, money, blood pressure points, and whatever else is involved, but the deck is stacked significantly in your favor.
Basically, non parents have to meet the ‘actual harm’ standard to ‘win’ a custody and visitation case – and even then it’s not like they win CUSTODY, they’d win visitation – and most likely on a very specific and pretty limited schedule. Even that’s really unlikely, because the actual harm standard is a nearly impossible one to meet.
What do I do if my ex mother in law is asking me for visitation?
It’s really pretty easy. I think the best thing is to tell her, kindly but firmly, that you and your ex have a parenting plan in place, and that she’s welcome to discuss her ‘visitation’, if she has any at all, with him directly. Or, alternatively, if you’ve agreed that she won’t see the children, maybe even admit that, or suggest that she take it up with him – so he can tell her.
It’s not easy to be the bad guy, but if you want to eliminate the probability that she’s going to ask and ask and ask for time, you’re probably going to prefer being honest with her about it. Will she file petitions? Probably not. Even if she did, would she be successful? Even less likely.
Ideally, you and your child’s other parent are on the same page, despite your divorce. If you’re not, you probably can’t do much else to keep her away 100% of the time, but at least it’ll be limited to the time that he has parenting time with the children. If you have specific concerns, it would be ideal if your coparenting arrangement allowed you to discuss them and come to a reasonable solution for how to address them on an ongoing basis.
That may not seem like a possibility now, but, after the dust settles, I think you will find that you’re able to establish a new normal that more or less works for both of you. If your mother in law is an issue, you may be able to address it then, too. Don’t give up hope that just because right now it’s a hot button issue or that he seems determined to defy you that he won’t see sense eventually, after you both calm down a little bit. Divorce and custody cases are traumatic, so the relationship that you are experiencing now while the case is at its height is not necessarily reflective of what it’ll be like later.
And, if its any consolation, you never have to see your mother in law, or allow her to see the children during your parenting time, ever again.
For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to request a copy of our free custody book for Virginia moms, give us a call at 757-425-5200 or visit our website at hoflaw.com.