Nothing Like a Grandparent’s Hug

The Jerusalem Post recently published an article by Judy Montagu entitled: A Perfect Love, about the importance of grandparents in the lives of children, and the unfortunate phenomenon of grandparents cut off from their grandchildren by children, or children-in-law.

Sometimes, however, a grandparent, heart-breakingly, has no answer to the question, “Savta – when are you coming?” A friend of mine hasn’t seen her little granddaughter in months. She lives in the center of the country, her daughter and son-in-law in the south. For reasons best known to the child’s mother – her own immaturity likely playing a big part – she keeps my friend dangling on a cord of uncertainty over if and when she will be allowed to renew contact with her granddaughter.

“It’s impossible to describe the agony of not being allowed to see her,” my friend told me quietly. “There’s the loss of not being a part of the child’s emotional and physical development, the pain of worrying that she will feel abandoned when savta disappears from her life once again.”

In the April 1 issue of Britain’s Independent, in a column called “Meet the grandparents: the unsung heroes of family life,” Virginia Ironside wrote about a woman whose son had died.

“While his widow was grieving and on her own, the grandmother looked after her granddaughter every day during the week for two years. But when the daughter-in-law married again, she was told, by the new husband, that she wasn’t wanted.

“She’s never seen her granddaughter again from that day to this. Cards and presents are returned. She now doesn’t even know where they live.”

In Britain, grandparents are finally being given legal rights to maintain contact with their grandchildren after a family breakdown or divorce – “not before time,” commented Ironside, calling the lack of recognition of the vital role grandparents play in society “a scandal” that is at last being addressed.

Apparently, the New Family organization has set up a hotline for grandparents who find themselves in this painful situation. Judy Montagu’s article cites New Family as saying that there are 300,000  in Israel suffering as a result of this situation, though I find it difficult to imagine what kind of data they made use of to  arrive at this number.

Currently, there are no legal rights for grandparents other than an exception in section 28a of the Law of Legal Capacity and Guardianship, 5722-1962. This statute allows the parents of a child who has passed away to petition the court for contact with the offspring of the deceased child; in other words, their grandchildren.

The courts have on an ad hoc basis ordered contact between children and grandchildren, based on the best interests of the children test and section 72 of the Law of Legal Capacity, which allows the court, to initiate contact with relatives of a minor in order to hear their opinion on matters relating to the minor.

The proposed legislation currently before the Knesset would amend section 72 such that the law would:

  1. State positively that minors have a right to reasonable contact with family members, and
  2. Where there is a dispute between the child’s parents and other family members as to contact with the minor child, the relatives may petition the court to ask for orders regarding contact with the child.

Although the proposed legislation gives the court discretion as to whether or not the contact will be good for the child, and the right to order contact with conditions (for example, one might, in certain cases, imagine the meetings to initially take place in a visitation center run by social services) I do have some concern as to how a change in the law might be manipulated by abusive families.

Reading the proposed legislation brought to mind some women I represented who were in women’s shelters, women who were abused not just by their spouses, but by the entire extended family. As I mentioned in my last post, the changes in the law might open the door to serial litigants, including unpleasant family members who are not petitioning for contact with the children in good faith.

If I thought that judges could always stand strong against this I wouldn’t be concerned, but I’m not so sure of this. I once represented a woman who fled to the shelter (literally: with her kids escaped through the window). She, husband and children had been living with his parents, who both witnessed the physical abuse and abused my client emotionally. The grandparents showed up for our first court appearance with the husband, when my client was still petrified of the entire family and very post-trauma. Despite the fact that the law says only the parties to a conflict may be in the courtroom in Family Court, and despite the fact that I vigorously objected to the presence of the grandmother and aunt in the courtroom, the judge allowed it.

I certainly believe that there is a need for legislation that promotes contact with grandparents.  I benefited from love and guidance from wonderful grandparents, and our children are fortunate to have marvelous grandparents.

However, I hope that the legislation that ultimately emerges from these efforts takes into account the protections that need to be given to people recovering from abusive relationships.

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6 Responses to Nothing Like a Grandparent’s Hug

  1. Judy Montagu says:

    I didn’t write that there are 300,000 grandparents in Israel who are cut off from their grandchildren, but that 300,000 individuals are suffering as a result of this situation. That includes grandparents, grandchildren and possibly others as well. — Judy Montagu

  2. shaananlaw says:

    thanks for the clarification, I’ll amend accordingly.

  3. pundit02 says:

    Dear Judy, My sister and I are among the lucky ones of our generation. By an act of G-d, all four of our grandparents and two of our great-grandparents survived the wars and trials of the mid-20th century in good health and great cheer to be with us well into our teen years and even beyond. No one was more central to our life. We never lived close by but they were ever present. Rivers, lakes, snowstorms, wars and oceans may have separated us physically – yet they were always there. We were a family. We shared everything. No one in our lives could come close to being as important as our grandparents. Every relationship we have and every act we take is judged by how they would see it. Years after their passing, we still consider their opinion as important. “What would _______ [place grandparent name here} say?” is a regular question in our family dialog. Our children who were too young to know them know all the stories about them and view their pictures often. And then I off and marry someone who comes from a different value system. All seemed normal at first but then, as things turned ugly, my children were cut off not only from me, my siblings and cousins, but from their paternal grandparents. The joy on their little faces when they see Sabba and Savta in a picture is beyond description, but they have seen their grandparents twice in the past two years – because of a crazy mother and grandmother on the other side. No court cares that the grandmother abuses them, curses them, hits them, denies them healthy food. No one cares that the parent alienates them from their family. The court and social system is interested only in protecting itself. They accept outrageous claims as fact “just in case” in order to protect themselves – but who is to protect the kids?? Who is to return the precious short years they have with their loving and doting grandparents? Who is going to pay back the lost love?? Forget about the grandparent’s rights – what about the kid’s rights??? All the best, Mike

  4. Ann Levin says:

    I commend Judy Montagu on her very fine article. As a grand parent who is denied access to my precious grandchild I would welcome a change in the Law to enable me the right to reconnect with a child with whom I have had a most wonderful loving relationship. . My fear is that my grandchild will feel abandoned by someone she loves so\ much and who loves her, The pain is indescribable, the agony never leaves me and the resentment I feel to my daughter will only change if and when my grand daughter and I are allowed to reconnect.

  5. shaananlaw says:

    Pundit – Since you addressed your comment specifically to Judy Montagu, author of the JPost article, I have forwarded it to her.
    To both you and Ann, thank you for your candour in sharing these difficult stories.
    I don’t know if you live in Israel or elsewhere. However, if you live in Israel, I would say that despite the fact that the law has not yet changed, the Family Courts are receptive to suits by grandparents asking for contact.
    Having said that, courts can be helpful, but only to a certain extent and can’t fix months and years of children being brainwashed by angry and/or vindictive parents.
    As with children of divorce who are alienated from a non-custodial parent, the courts have a tough time rectifying the alienation. However, sometimes these suits are helpful if only because they contribute to the emotional well-being of the child involved, in that the child knows that someone ( a grandparent, non-custodial parent) was fighting for contact with them, so that in fact they are beloved and valuable children.

  6. Erika says:

    I know what these grandparents have gone through! The pain in their heart! I had to move to Florida when my grandaughter was only a year old. My son-in-law took my daughter and grandaughter to live in Germany, because he thought his uncle would build him a house. My son-in-law was diagnosed with BiPolar, paranoid,etc. Yes my daughter married someone like this even though she and I had fights about this. When they left for Germany, I knew it was his mother who persuaded him to do this,,because the uncle is her brother. She was always angry at her son-in-law for taking her daughter to get married in Palistine, but he brought her back. So, I called her and said “your son-in-law took your daughter to Palastine to get married, but brought her back. Your son (my son-in-law) did not bring my daughter and grandaughter back. I have only one grandchild and he took her away. I have only one daughter and he took her also. Across an ocean! I cursed her son to her! The next day she hired someone to wait for me with a box cutter knife and a hoody. Thank God my neighbor saw him while he was washing his car. He called me over to tell me there is a suspiceous character in my doorway. That is when I told my husband we will retire now and move to Florida. I was punished by my son=in=law everytime I called. He would hangup the phone, I would hear that click, and my heart would sink, he isn’t allowing me to talk to my grandaughter or daughter. I can go on and on about what has happened through the years with our relationship. I know he has said things to my grandaughter against me, because she does not show me respect or even hugs me or allows me to hug her. When she was a toddler she was so loving, now she is going to be 13 and is distant with me. They now live in Florida 30 mins. from me. As long as I keep my feelings and my mouth shut all is well. That is the only way to get along with him! Otherwise he will throw us out of his house like he has done numerous times, even on my husbands birthday. I keep my feelings and emotions inside, so I don’t cause him to deny me my grandaughter and daughter again. He has put me against the wall and screamed in my face when my grandaughter was just home one month from the hospitlal. He has emotionally abused us for years and years. He was drinking in those years and doing drugs, but is now clean. I try to put it all in the past and move on. So we are all getting along now that I am 73yrs. old. But I need to walk on egg shells with him. I need to word things properly so he doesn’t fly off the handle. There are good times with him! He makes us laugh everytime he visits. But it’s no fun walking on egg shells! There was a time we visited them in NY when they were still living there, and their dogs ribs were showing, my grandaughter was sitting on a carpet stained from the dogs feces and urine. The apartment stunk so toxic, I made him open the window in my grandaughters room. She looke so sad, because it was so dreary with no curtains on the window. I always fixed her room up all pink in their other apartments. She loved sparkly things, so I made everything with sparkles and jewels. The day we had to go back to Florida after leaving them and seeing an empty refridgerator we had to stock up for them, I worried so much and cried so much when I got home. Thank God my prayers have been answered and he is no longer drinking and he is getting therapy. But I missed those wonderful toddler years! And no matter how good we are getting along with him now, I will never forget all the pain he cause us.

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