In-laws losing grandkids. How do I help?
October 9, 2007 9:10 AM   Subscribe

My in-laws are about to lose their grandchildren. How do I help them?

A quick family tree: my in-laws are my husband's mother and stepfather. The grandchildren are my stepsister-in-law's kids. Stepsister-in-law and her husband are divorced.

Attempt to distill years of drama into a few (admittedly and possibly biased) paragraphs: Stepsister-in-law has basically decided she is a lesbian and given up any claim or responsibility to the kids. Her ex-husband has primary custody of the children, but does fuck-all to take care of them. He is also partially disabled due to some sort of injury and has some sort of unspecified mental problems. My in-laws have been stepping in to provide financially for the children and to take care of them when he has been unable or unwilling to--to the point where he would have been cited for neglect if they hadn't done so. They've been the only positive stable influence on these kids, as far as I can tell. They expanded and remodeled their house to allow the kids and ex-husband to live with them, and spent a lot of money they probably shouldn't have to make this happen. It was intended that they would get this money back from ex-husband when he sold his condo, something he agreed to repeatedly and was given multiple chances to back out of.

Ex-husband now wants to move to another state far away from Alaska (I guess they're all far), where they all are now. He says it's to be with his parents, who are horrid cold people who want nothing to do with the grandchildren, and it is suspected they moved so far away so they wouldn't have to deal with him or the grandchildren. All the lawyers my in-laws have consulted (four, at this point) have said it is more or less impossible to get custody if ex-husband refuses to give it up, which he will not. Visiting will be rare and next to impossible due to distance, if they can even get it granted. They are absolutely devastated emotionally and financially (the house might go into foreclosure) and it breaks my heart to see them and my husband so distressed. What can I do? *Is* there anything I can do? If you would like to email, direct it to
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless the sister in law decides to step in a try to get partial custody there is sadly almost nothing that can be done aside from trying to have the father declared and unfit parent.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:20 AM on October 9, 2007

if the grandparents have evidence of how they have stepped up and taken care of the kids (bills paid, etc) they might have a case.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:33 AM on October 9, 2007

If he's just a bad person, there is nothing they can do. If there's documented abuse, drug use, or neglect, they need to mention these things to the lawyers.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:35 AM on October 9, 2007

Grandparents and some of the rest of you may be entitled to court-ordered visitation rights at the new location.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:46 AM on October 9, 2007

This one is for a lawyer. I'm not your lawyer, but thinkingwoman and JimN2TAW have got it exactly wrong.

don't make a mistake by not consulting a lawyer in your jurisdiction.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:50 AM on October 9, 2007

Are there any "grandparent's rights" support/pressure groups over there? Worth a shot.
posted by Leon at 10:21 AM on October 9, 2007

If the dad is really unfit mentally to take care of the kids and has neglected them, I would call social services. However, this is a pretty drastic step so be aware of the fallout from it. But yeah I would definitely consult a lawyer in Alaska before doing so. This situation probably is not as rare as you may think.
posted by whoaali at 10:28 AM on October 9, 2007

They could sue him for the money they've loaned him and put a lien on his condo. Negotiations to resolve the suit and the lien could lead to a more favorable custody arrangement. A lawyer with an attitude would be an absolute necessity.
posted by jamjam at 10:30 AM on October 9, 2007

I have to ask: WTF is up with the stepsister-in-law? So she's a lesbian. Does that somehow remove the responsibility of parenthood from her? Someone--your husband, her father, someone--needs to talk some sense into this woman. Discovering one's sexuality has been repressed and coming out can be traumatic, sure, but her emotional and sexual needs aren't nearly as important as her kids' needs. She's their mother, whether she likes it or not. Her father and stepmother should make it clear that they will help take care of the kids, but she needs to step up and accept her responsibilities.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:36 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000) is the leading case on grandparent visitation rights.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:47 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Stepsister-in-law has basically decided she is a lesbian and given up any claim or responsibility to the kids."

Regardless of any re emergent adolescent tendencies she's experiencing as part of her newfound identity, she still has legal rights and responsibilities towards her children. What is her relationship with your brother and their parents now?
posted by Good Brain at 10:49 AM on October 9, 2007

I feel really sorry for the kids, but it sounds like they have one parent who's struggling to be responsible despite being an imperfect person. Grandparents do not and should not have claims on kids when there's a capable parent accepting responsibility. If four lawyers agree that the father's custody is not in jeopardy, I'm going to go out on a limb and conclude that he's a capable if not award-winning parent.

All the stuff about irresponsible lesbian mommies, expensive remodeling, promised condo sales, and the hardship of long-distance visits is at best completely beside the point. Whether aunts, uncles, or grandparents will have their hearts broken is not beside the point -- it's a tragedy -- but it's not about you guys, it's about the kids. If I knew nothing more about the situation (hey, I guess I don't!) I would strongly suspect that the grandparents and their champions in the family are as involved in smothering the father's limited fathering skills as he himself is.

Getting out of town with the kids before he's stripped of his last opportunities to be a responsible parent may be this guy's best option -- and the kids' best option. I don't expect you to agree, but you did point out that you're a biased party, and you owe the kids at least the thought experiment of seeing it their daddy's way and hoping for the best.
posted by gum at 1:46 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Grandparents ... may be entitled to court-ordered visitation rights at the new location.

This one is for a lawyer. I'm not your lawyer, but ... JimN2TAW ha[s] got it exactly wrong.

This shouldn't degenerate into ad hominem attacks on others trying to offer helpful ideas for the OP. Of course the OP should consult a lawyer in the relevant jurisdiction, duh.

Grandparents may indeed have the right to seek visitation under specific circumstances. Maybe not in every state, but I never said it was true in every state. New York law specifically allows grandparents to apply for visitation, under specific circumstances, and it is not automatic that visitation will be granted.

Troxel v. Granville, cited above, concerns a Washington State law that was struck down by the Washington Supreme Court for specific reasons not relevant here and is therefore no longer in force. So how can it be "the leading case"? Also, the OP has no apparent connection with Washington State.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:56 PM on October 9, 2007

If the grandparents want custody, they should try to have Dad declared unfit. See a lawyer

If the grandparents want visitation rights and Dad objects, unless a court has found him unfit, the grandparents must show the children's interest in seeing their grandparents outweighs their Dad's fundamental constitutional right to raise his child as he sees fit. This will require a lawyer and a lot of money. This is the legacy of the US Supreme Court's Troxel decision.

But here's the best solution, because it doesn't involve a lawyer: everyone grows up and the kids never have to sit through a court hearing. Grandparents treat their ex-son-in-law with respect, and maybe he'll stick around and accept their help. (Ex-wife's step-sister-in-law: no more badmouthing the guy anonymously on the Internet). Grandparents convince their daughter that instead of saying "fuck you forever" to her kids, all she has to do is accept her kids as her own and accept her parents' offer to effectively raise her kids on their behalf. Dad gets his physical and mental disabilities treated.
posted by hhc5 at 4:19 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

[Posting this followup on behalf of Anonymous.]

So everybody's been asking about my stepsister-in-law. I agree, the lesbian thing is irrelevant, and I apologize for mentioning it. After she came out, she took off and has been doing all sorts of soul-questy finding-herself things and traveling around the country instead of taking care of her kids. It's really more emblematic of how messed-up and selfish she's been since before the children were born. She's always been kind of off (according to my husband), but at some point she went off the deep end (she met ex-husband when they were members of a deeply scary fundamentalist church, and she got out of it and swung the other direction, but he's still somewhat of a believer). She's more or less checked out of the whole parental role, except when she feels like paying attention to children, which isn't often. She's a skilled sociopathic manipulator who's convinced a lot of people she's the victim in all this, and never mind the children, because the ex has them. My in-laws did attempt to enlist her help in getting custody, but here's the sad fucked-up thing--she's also on disability, and she basically lied on her psych evaluation and said my in-laws abused her when she was living there, so her presence in the custody fight would be worse than useless. My in-laws were rather understandably upset by this, and she got upset because they got upset, and nobody is speaking to each other right now. (Hooray for dysfunction!)

I'd love to believe that this is some sort of last-ditch effort by ex-husband to make something of himself, but he hasn't even told the children yet that they're moving, and it's my understanding that it will be soon. I don't believe a responsible parent would do something like that without giving his kids some sort of adjustment period. They will basically have no support system, save a pair of grandparents who really don't care to have them around. It seems foolish to walk away from people who do love the children and have sacrificed a great deal to try to include them in their homes and their lives, but I'm a biased party, so what the hell do I really know? I do appreciate the alternate perspective, even though I think it's not much of a silver lining in a very dark cloud.
posted by cortex at 10:30 PM on October 10, 2007

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