Donna Dougherty Law P.C.

Tackling the challenges of becoming parents again

When divorce and other domestic upheavals threaten their grandchildren's well-being, Virginia grandparents often step in to provide a stable home. This return to parenthood brings many challenges, particularly when the children involved have been traumatized by an unstable home environment.

Although Virginia law is designed to promote frequent parental contact with children when appropriate, the court's aim is to determine custody and visitation rights based on the best interests of the child. This means that in situations such as a parent's conviction of felony assault, where evidence clearly indicates that neither parent is a fit guardian, the court may award custody to other persons with legitimate interest, including grandparents.

The organization Stop Child Abuse Now lists multiple reasons why grandparents may take custody of their grandchildren. For instance, one or both parents may have an overseas military assignment. Other reasons may include serious mental, behavioral or physical parental issues, including the following:

  • Mental illness
  • Chronic, severe health concerns
  • Domestic violence
  • Substance dependence

When grandparents receive custody of grandchildren with a troubled family background, they take on the children's psychological responses to the trauma. Grandparents must, therefore, be braced to provide not only for kids' physical and educational needs but also any necessary medical and therapeutic treatments.

Bills from the hospital or the psychiatrist only add to the financial burden of obtaining custody, which can be expensive in itself, particularly on a fixed income. Grandparents who are struggling to make ends meet can seek aid from the government by participating in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a federal grant program designed to provide food, nutrition education and health care to children under five. Medicaid is also available for uninsured children in low-income families. 

Grandparents who find themselves acting as primary caretakers should stay involved in their grandchildren's lives and maintain open, positive communication with the kids. However, grandparents must also take steps to protect their own physical and mental health. School and community assistance with childcare allows grandparents some time for rest and recuperation. Joining a support group allows grandparents to share challenges, frustrations and successes with others in similar situations.

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