Inevitably, divorce has an effect not only on children, but on their grandparents. The effect is not only emotional, but potentially financial. In the uncertain, post-recession economy, many grandparents are helping cover daily living costs for grandkids. Indeed, a recent AARP survey put the number of grandparents doing this as 37 percent – more than 1 in 3.
To be sure, formal legal rights for grandparents are not what they were before the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the law on that subject in 2000. In Troxel v. Granville, the Supreme Court overruled a law from Washington State that enabled courts to grant grandparents visitation rights based on the “best interest of the child” standard.
This ruling has had some unfortunate consequences. Sometimes grandparents feel as if parents are actually requiring grandparents to make financial gifts before being allowed to visit their grandchildren. The emotional manipulation involved in soliciting those contributions takes a terrible toll on family relationships.
An extended family would probably be better off seeking some form of therapy than allowing visitation time to be bartered in such a blatant manner.
Still, even in families that can avoid the worst conflicts, issues of intergenerational wealth transfer remain. A recent Pew Research Center poll found the income gap between households headed by seniors and those headed by adults under 35 to be surprisingly high: 47 to 1.
To be sure, the Great Recession has taken a hit on almost everyone’s net worth. When that is added to the challenging Michigan economy, the role of grandparents’ wealth in their grandchildren’s lives is likely to remain an important issue for years to come.
Source: “Grandparents, purse strings and divorce,” Reuters, Temma Ehrenfeld, 7-23-12
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