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Grandparents should be peacemakers, not troublemakers: Colman

The best way grandparents can resume their relationships when blocked from seeing their grandchildren is through therapy or counselling, Toronto family lawyer Gene C. Colman tells AdvocateDaily.com

“Avoid conflict. Be a peacemaker, not a troublemaker,” says Colman, principal of Gene C. Colman Family Law Centre.

“If it has come to the point where you’re not allowed to see your grandkids, I think you need a neutral third party to referee and to help people focus on what’s really important,” he says. “That has the greatest chance of success.”

If the parents of the children block the grandparent from having access to their grandchildren, mediation might also help resolve any underlying issues, he says.

That third party could be a counsellor, a clergy member or even a trusted friend — although that’s not always possible outside of a court order because counselling involves two willing parties and some courts are hesitant to make such stipulations, Colman says.

When there’s friction between parties, he says even an apology letter could be an effective option.

“Sometimes children can carry around resentments against their parents for a long time for perceived slights or maybe stuff that you actually did do wrong when you were raising them,” says Colman. “But life moves on.

Before you go to court, sit down with an objective third party, preferably a trained counsellor/therapist,” advises Colman. “But, if you have to go to court, that’s what they’re there for.”

Choosing to go the litigation route should never be a knee-jerk reaction, he says.

Courts are always an option, but it’s one that should be avoided unless absolutely necessary, Colman says, adding that the adversarial nature of the court system is increasingly being understood as a difficult way to handle family law issues because it is destructive.

Colman points out that several alternatives have developed over the past 10 to 15 years, including increased use of collaborative law and parental co-ordination in addition to mediation.

“As much as possible, the family law system is moving away from adversarial dispute resolution,” says Colman. “Little by little judges and lawyers are realizing that it’s not a healthy way to resolve disputes, there are better ways.

“But in some circumstances, court is the only option because the other person is unwilling to come to the table.”

Colman issues a word of warning for grandparents: the point of the grandchild-grandparent interaction is all about the child.

He also advises grandparents to always be respectful of the parents and serve as good role models.

“You go to court for the benefit of the grandchild,” he says. “You don’t go because, as a grandparent, you think you have a right to see your grandchildren. Rather, it’s because your grandchildren should have the right to see you and know you.”

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