Divorce Without Pain © : Case Study 6
Note that the case studies mentioned in this blog have been anonymised and particular details changed so as to avoid any chance of recognition or attribution.
Grandparents Henry and Elaine contacted 'Divorce Without Pain' concerning contact with their two grandchildren, Milo and Abbey.
Their son, Simon, married Chantelle 9 years ago, and their grandchildren Milo (7) and Abbey (4) were brought up in a loving household with their parents until Simon encountered problems with alcohol. Simon and Chantelle separated, the children remaining with their mother in the family home.
The separation was not easy, with blame and acrimony on both sides. Chantelle decided that the children should not see their father, and with this, the children became estranged from their paternal grandparents, Henry and Elaine.
Chantelle's parents Guy and Barbara, who had regular contact with Milo and Abbey, were not close to Henry and Elaine, but had sympathy for them concerning their lack of contact with their grandchildren. They were reluctant to intervene, for they did not wish to upset Chantelle.
Neither Henry nor Elaine wanted to make an application to the court. They wished to avoid the conflict escalating and sought advice on alternative ways forward. They had written to Guy and Barbara and received a sympathetic telephone call. They had tried to contact Chantelle, but she had not responded. Whilst supportive of their son Simon, their relationship with him was strained as they considered him to blame for the breakdown of the marriage.
Following discussions with Henry and Elaine, 'Divorce Without Pain' appointed two facilitators to work with the family. The facilitators were both experienced family practitioners who were used to dealing with acute problems and conflict. Contact was made with Guy and Barbara who expressed their overall concerns about Simon and alcohol, and their fear that Henry and Elaine were simply acting as his agents.
The facilitators were able to provide reassurance on this issue, and arranged a preliminary meeting between Henry, Elaine, Guy and Barbara. The four agreed at this stage, that their meeting should be both confidential and child-focused.
The meeting was managed successfully, and lines of communication were opened between the two sets of grandparents. Initially, Guy and Barbara agreed to send a fortnightly email to Henry and Elaine with news of Milo and Abbey and to send photographs and scanned school reports. More importantly, they agreed to speak to Chantelle with a view to arranging Skype contact between the children, Henry and Elaine.
This meeting proved to be a turning point for both sets of grandparents. Within a short period of time, Guy and Barbara were able to reassure Chantelle of the wisdom of facilitating contact, Skype became a weekly ritual when the children were with them, and eventually an away-day with both sets of grandparents was aranged. The facilitators gave advice on how best to manage this event, which successfully assuaged Chantelle's concerns that Henry and Elaine were simply trying to manufacture a meeting between the children and their father.
Although Simon's alcohol abuse had been a damaging feature of the latter stages of the marriage, all parties agreed that there were no child-safety issues so long as Simon was sober. The children missed seeing their father, but understood him to be unwell.
The 'Divorce Without Pain' facilitators focused on this aspect, discussed the matter with Simon, and worked with Guy and Barbara who indicated that they would supervise a contact. The next step was to discuss this possibility with Chantelle. One of the facilitators met with her and an initial meeting was agreed during the time that the children would spend with Guy and Barbara. This too proved to be successful.
The final step for the facilitators was to replace the supervision by Guy and Barbara, with supervision from Henry and Elaine. A further meeting was required, attended by Chantelle and both sets of grandparents. With the build up of trust, an activities meeting supervised by Henry and Elaine, was set up and proved to be popular with the children.
The breakdown of the relationship had been complicated by the loss of trust in Simon as a father who could remain sober and protect his children. Using the goodwill of both sets of grandparents proved critically important in producing a safe opportunity for the children to renew their relationship with their father. Work with Simon resulted in his self-referral for treatment, a further factor that helped to build confidence in the arrangement.
The new contact arrangements are working well. Henry and Elaine have their grandchildren to stay every third weekend, and during this time the children have contact with their father at his parent's home, or at an activity attended by Henry and Elaine. Simon is now progressing with therapy and has provided his first 'alcohol-free' test, which has been shared between both families.