Do I have to let my former in laws see the kids?

Ugh, in laws! I totally get it, especially where custody and visitation is concerned. I’m a mom, too, and I used to feel like before I had kids, it was really not such a big deal. You’d see each other at holidays and keep in touch, but it wasn’t an overwhelming interference in your day to day life. You start thinking that’s how it’s going to be all the time. And then, BOOM! You have kids, and suddenly they want to see you three times a week and Skype in between.

I’ve been really floored at how having children makes other people think that I owe them my time (and my children’s time) on a regular basis. I’m even more surprised that they think that these visits should be carried out in whatever manner is most convenient for them, regardless of whether my child needs to eat, nap, or just leave the house so we don’t all go crazy.

After separation or a break up, you probably think you’re well shot of them. Or, at least, the relatives who aren’t related to you by blood. Right? But then they keep calling. They keep asking for things. They want your time, even still! And they have no right to ask! …Or do they?

How do you handle your in laws after a break up or separation?

Well, the answer is easy. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others don’t have an interest in your child. I mean, they do – they’re related, after all. But that doesn’t mean that you have to accommodate their requests, or even answer their calls.  And it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to let them see the children during your time, even if you have virtually all of the time with the children.

A grandparent or other non parent can file for custody and/or visitation in the courts, but they’re super unlikely to have any success – unless, of course, you’ve already GIVEN them custody. (But that’s a different situation entirely than the one I’m describing.) A grandparent or non parent has to demonstrate that actual harm would befall the child if their requested custody and/or visitation arrangement isn’t implemented. Actual harm is super, super hard to show, and it’s a way higher burden than the best interests of the child standard that exists for petitions between you and your child’s father.

They can probably drag you through court for a little while, if they’re so inclined, which can be both expensive and frustrating for you. (Not to mention will likely make you even less likely to accommodate any requests to see your children.) But they almost certainly won’t succeed; at least, not without really shocking extenuating circumstances.

So, they can’t see my kids at all?

No, I didn’t say that. If your child’s father wants, say, his mom to have time with the children, he can generally delegate some of his time to her. But that doesn’t impose any obligation on you to do the same during your time.

If you and he agree that his mom shouldn’t have time with the children – say she’s an alcoholic, for example, and you’d feel better if she didn’t have time with the children or, if she does, she’s heavily supervised – then that’s fine, too. If you both agree, no one has to allow visitation. You can put that in your custody agreement or court order, and that’s fine.

If you disagree, though, your child’s father will likely be allowed to involve her to the extent he deems appropriate during his parenting time. If his parenting time is less than yours, then that means less potential opportunity for influence on her part.

You could contest her involvement in a court action between you and your child’s father, and, ultimately, it’d be down to what you could prove.  In general, though, I find the courts are supportive of allowing visits to take place on the other parent’s time.  The judge could order that it be supervised, but, again, that’s a fact-specific determination that could/would be made.

But I want my children to have the benefit of their extended family!

If your child’s father’s family isn’t a problem, this article really isn’t for you. You’re welcome to involve them to the fullest extent you feel necessary or appropriate. You can invite them to birthday parties, share pictures, send email updates, Skype, text, visit, whatever – it’s completely up to you.

But, as extended family members, they really don’t have the rights that you and your child’s father do. While you can get in trouble with the court for not involving dad in decision-making and not supporting the developing relationship between your children and their father, there’s no such requirement for extended family members. But, hey, if you WANT to – by all means, go ahead!

If you’ve got a great mother in law (or former mother in law), there’s nothing to say that you can’t keep her involved to the degree that makes you comfortable. Even if your child’s father doesn’t involve her! And, man, I’ve heard some really great stories about wonderful, helpful mother in laws, too!

Ultimately, it’s up to you. You’re under no obligation to respond to requests for more time or more communication about your children from anyone other than your child’s father. Unless, of course, you want to.

Dealing with the in laws is complicated under the best circumstances, and it’s tricky to know how to respond when things don’t work out between you and your child’s father. For more information, or to schedule an appointment to discuss your case in more detail with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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