As a divorce and family mediator, I’ve been contacted by grandparents or other surrogate parenting figures who have been extremely involved in children’s lives, assuming many parental duties that the parents did not perform. Many factors contribute to the shift in responsibilities: sheer love & joy of having grandkids; the biological parent’s drug problem; financial inability to provide; career obligations; mental illness; etc.
Whether the child lives full time with the surrogate or depends heavily on this provider for basic and frequent needs, children bond with this alternate parental figure and learn to rely upon them. When creating divorce agreements in situations where there has been significant support from a grandparent or other supportive person (the role sometimes referred to as a "third party intervener"), it seems wise to address this relationship in the written agreements prepared in mediation.
Granting the legal right of the grandparent or surrogate to see the children on an ongoing basis may seem unnecessary; it may seem obvious that the relationship will continue. However, if one parent dies or moves out of state, significant changes may be experienced. While the adults are able to choose whom they spend time with, children are at the mercy of the legal parent or custodian.