Hong Kong: The vital role of grandparents in times of family conflict and transition

19 January 2024 | Applicable law: Hong Kong | 4 minute read

In Asian family culture, where traditions and familial bonds are deeply cherished, the Chinese New Year symbolizes family unity. Amidst these celebrations, the role of grandparents, especially in times of hardship such as divorce, is crucial in maintaining familial harmony. 

Grandparents, revered as sources of wisdom and stability, play a vital role in preserving the family's balance. Their roles become significantly more important during times of change, as they provide emotional support and continuity for the younger generations.

This article will explore the vital role of grandparents in supporting children through divorce. 

Emotional anchors in turbulent times

The emotional impact of divorce on children can be profound. They often experience a range of emotions, including sadness, confusion, and anger. Grandparents can be invaluable emotional anchors during these times. Their presence offers comfort and a safe space for grandchildren to express their feelings openly. Unlike parents, who are directly involved in the divorce, grandparents can provide a more neutral ground where children can find solace and understanding.

Continuity, stability and perspective

Divorce can disrupt a child’s sense of normalcy and security. Grandparents can offer continuity amidst this disruption. By maintaining routines, such as weekend visits or holiday traditions, they help grandchildren feel that not everything in their life is changing. This sense of stability is crucial for children’s emotional well-being.

With their life experience, grandparents can offer a unique perspective and wisdom. They can help children understand that while the family dynamic is changing, the love and bonds within the family endure. Grandparents can share their own experiences of overcoming difficulties, providing children with hope and resilience during challenging times.

A buffer against parental conflict 

The unconditional love of a grandparent is a powerful force in a child's life. This love becomes even more significant during a divorce. Grandparents can reassure children that they are loved and valued, countering any feelings of blame or insecurity they might be experiencing due to the divorce. 

Grandparents can act as a buffer, providing a peaceful and neutral environment away from any parental conflict and discord. Their homes can be a haven where normalcy prevails, and children can escape the tensions often present in a household undergoing divorce.

Role models of positive relationships

Grandparents can model healthy relationships and effective conflict resolution. By observing how their grandparents interact with others, children learn valuable lessons about respect, empathy, and communication. These lessons are particularly important in a time when their primary role models, their parents, may be struggling with these very issues.

In the aftermath of a divorce, a child's world can feel fragmented. Grandparents play a critical role in keeping family bonds intact. They can facilitate communication and interactions within the extended family, ensuring that children continue to feel part of a larger family network. This sense of belonging is vital for their emotional and social development.

Providing practical support

Apart from emotional support, grandparents often provide practical help. This might include childcare, assisting with school runs, or simply being there when the parents need to navigate their post-divorce life. Such support is not only beneficial for the children but also eases the stress on parents, creating a more harmonious environment for the children.

Grandparents’ Rights in Hong Kong Family Law

While there are no rights of custody and access in Hong Kong family law for grandparents, courts and social welfare officers often recognize their significant role in a child’s life. The relationship which the children have with their grandparents may assist the court in making the difficult decisions in respect of custody, care and control and access.  Non parties to the divorce suit, however, the grandparents would not be bound by any court orders made in respect of them and their relationship with the children. In a rare case, where it was considered to be in the best interest of the child, a grandmother was able apply for a wardship order. In this case the child was made a ward of court and custody, care and control given to the grandmother. 

In certain circumstances, in the event of a death of a parent, the surviving parent may apply for a guardianship order, or 'any person' could apply, which may include a grandparent, subject to approval by the court. In order to avoid disruption caused by the death of a parent, it is advisable for the parents of children to make wills and to appoint the grandparents, as appropriate, as guardians.

The dissolution of a marriage can be one of the most challenging experiences a child faces. Recognizing and supporting the role of grandparents in the lives of children of divorce may not only be beneficial but may prove essential for the well-being and development of children navigating through one of life's most challenging transitions.

Should you wish to further understand the legal position of grandparents in family conflict, please reach out to your designated contact at Withers.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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