Feelings of Loss and Unhappiness

"I receive so many phone calls from grandparents who spend Christmas alone. Some will pull down the blinds and sit and eat alone rather than admit that they are cut off from their grandchildren.... The best way to punish an ex-partner is to keep the children away from their grandparents. Unfortunately this punishes the children as well" (Friedman 1994).

Although researchers have focused our attention on the central participants of divorce, mothers, fathers and their children, there is growing recognition that court orders may also cut off grandparents from their grandchildren. Just at a point when a child is faced in most sole custody decisions with the loss of a parent, he or she also must bear the loss of grandparents and other relatives (Folberg & Graham 1979).

However, when custody is considered in context of extended family life, there has been relatively little research on the role of grandparents as a source of support for children during and following their parents' marital transitions.  In one recent exception Lussier and colleagues (2002) examined children's contact with and closeness to grandparents in different family settings (i.e., two biological parents, single mother, stepparent). Parent and child interviews and questionnaires regarding the children's relationships with maternal and paternal biological and step grandparents were studied.  There were family type differences in rates of contact with grandparents as well as children's closeness to grandparents. Furthermore, children's and parents' view about these relationships with grandparents were modestly correlated, suggesting that children often held different views about their closeness to their grandparents than did their parents. Greater closeness to grandparents was associated with fewer adjustment problems 


An earlier work by Ambert (1988) presented evidence that suggested the relationships between non-custodial parents and ex-affines (parents of their ex-spouses) were quite limited.  However, no data was available in that study on relationships between grandparents and the children. Anecdotal and research information indicates that some grandparents feel excluded from the lives of their grandchildren, as a result of sole custody determinations in favour of their child’s ex-spouse (Lovorn 1991; McMurray 1995; Family Law Advisory Group (2001).  Further, if that anecdotal evidence is to be believed, grandparents are joining advocacy groups and demanding more grandparents’ rights in ever increasing numbers (Friedman 1990; Head 1991a; Lovorn 1991). 


Clearly, more research is needed of the potential victimisation of grandparents and all other relevant extended family members as a function of sole custody, particularly family members who live in or near the family home or share in childcare during the marriage. It would seem reasonable that curtailing the relationship between the non-custodial parent and their child, through either court order or contact denial by the custodial parent, would also victimise children, grandparents and other extended family members who may wish to stay involved after the divorce.


Liela Friedman. (12 December 1994). Losing A Special Bond. Melbourne Herald-Sun.

Folberg J., & Graham M (1979). Joint Custody of Children Following Divorce. University of California Davis Law Review. 12: 535

Lussier G., Deater-Deckard K., Dunn J., & Davies L (2002). Grandparents Following Parental Divorce and Remarriage.  Journal of Family Psychology. 16(3): 363–376 

Ambert A. M (1988). Relationships With Former In-Laws After Divorce: A Research Note. Journal of Marriage and The Family. 50: 679-686  

Lovorn R (Thursday 3 October 1991). Why Women Join Fathers Rights Groups. Athens Banner Herald: Athens Georgia  

McMurray A (1995). Parenting Without Custody: A Guide For Survival. Harper Collins Publishers: Sydney

Family Law Advisory Group (2001). Out of The Maze: Pathways To The Future For Families Experiencing Separation. Report of The Family Law Advisory Group: Canberra (citing submission by the Council On Aging)

Friedman L (1990). Why Can’t I Sleep At Nana’s Anymore? Death, Divorce and The Grandparents. Margistra Publishing: Melbourne;

Head L (August/September 1991a). Gender Bias In The Judicial System. FAPT Briefings 4(2).   

See also, Gregory Wendt (Thursday, 8 February 1996). Gutsy Granny Setting Sights On Canberra. The Newcastle Herald. and;

Grandparents Rights (1985). Report From The Committee On Education and Labour. House of Representatives, First Session. Washington D. C. 

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