When news broke that Thomas Markle, Meghan’s estranged father, the Duchess of Sussex, was planning to seek California courts access to her grandchildren, Lilibet, 2 months old and Archie, 2, I immediately thought to online recovery. group for adult children from dysfunctional families in which I have participated for almost a decade. At least once a week, a participant asks for advice on how to handle a legal request from a toxic grandparent trying to access their minor children.
Had Markle acted in good faith, as opposed to his own self-interest, he would have quietly petitioned the California courts, without going to the media in advance.
I don’t have children, but I have skin in this game. I was born into a toxic family – the kind in which emotional, financial and sometimes physical abuse was a legacy passed down from generation to generation. As Markle continues to humiliate her daughter and family in the media – despite her clear desire to break free from him – I remember why I was relieved that the so-called grandparents’ rights laws weren’t not in vogue when I was growing up in the ’80s and 90s.
The premise of these laws is that “children need grandparents,” as advocates for grandparents say. However, each state treats grandparent access laws differently, from short, loosely written visitation requirements to long, detailed, and specific laws outlining grandparent rights. Part of the differentiation could come from the fact that “the rights of grandparents by state legislatures is a fairly recent trend, and most laws granting these rights have been in effect for less than 40 years,” as the authors put it. FindLaw legal writers.
I understand the concerns on which these laws were founded. But these laws assume that grandparents genuinely care about the well-being of their grandchildren, desire positive and healthy relationships with their children’s children, and are good influences. This is, of course, the best of times.
In my own family, I never had much of a relationship with one of my grandparents because he was a deeply difficult person. We spent long periods – sometimes years – not seeing her at all, an intentional choice on the part of my parents. When I came of age, my parents’ decision to protect me and my brother from my grandmother started to make sense. I consider myself lucky that she never took advantage of grandparents’ rights laws to demand access to me. My parents were teenagers when I was born and would not have had the resources, confidence or knowledge to fight such a petition.
That grandparent rights laws have the potential to grant dysfunctional parents access to minors on the basis of shared DNA is troubling at best. The law is supposed to take into account whether such access is in the best interests of the child, but this is far from guaranteed. Several people in my online recovery group said that grandparents gained access against parents’ wishes, especially in situations where the abuse their own parents caused them had never been documented and that ‘they did not have the means to afford quality legal representation to oppose it. petitions from grandparents.
I guess if Markle had acted in good faith, as opposed to his own self-interest, he would have petitioned the California courts quietly, without resorting to the media in advance. But he has a habit of selling stories to the media in an attempt to force his daughter and Prince Harry to talk to him; before his wedding in 2018, he staged paparazzi photos of himself after his daughter and the prince explicitly asked him to avoid the media for his own protection; he later published his daughter’s personal letter to the media in what appeared to be another attempt to stay in the tabloids at the expense of his daughter’s image and demands for confidentiality.
After several years of this questionable behavior, he came forward to announce that he was pursuing legal avenues to gain access to grandchildren he had never met – a noxious coating of frosting on an already bitter cake. His behavior should disqualify him from any access.
Fortunately, California is one of the states with very specific laws about the conditions under which grandparents can request access to their grandchildren, and they seem designed to handle requests from grandparents who seem doubtful. According to California courts, Markle will have to prove a pre-existing relationship with her grandchildren “which spawned a bond.” The rights of her daughter and her husband to make decisions about their children will also be taken into account. And finally, according to California law, “grandparents cannot apply for visitation rights while the parents of the grandchild are married”, with a few exceptions.
The premise on which grandparent access laws are based is tenuous at best. Sometimes it is better that grandchildren never knew their grandparents. If media reports are to be believed, Meghan and Harry are smart about protecting their children from a man who has only created drama and grief for their family. Hopefully the California courts will justify Meghan and Harry’s decision to keep a toxic grandparent away from his grandchildren.