Should You Stay in Touch with Your Ex Spouse’s Family?

We all know the iconic line, “Can’t we still be friends?” While it may seem like a reasonable request, after a divorce, keeping in touch and staying friends with your in-laws can be tricky.

Families are complicated at the best of times. Add divorce to the mix, and any complications that already exist will be magnified. And while you may have had a wonderful relationship with your ex’s family when things were good, family dynamics have a way of shifting after divorce, whether you like it or not.

Pros and cons of staying connected to your in-laws after divorce

Divorce is a time of major redefinition. You’re redefining your own life, and your relationship with extended family is part of that. 

Family members, both yours and your ex’s, will take the news of your divorce differently depending on your relationship and their loyalties. No matter how friendly your divorce is, your relationship with your in-laws will probably change. It can be further complicated when children are involved.

Your parenting agreement may clarify what contact your kids need to maintain with your in-laws as their grandparents. Whether your own relationship with your ex’s family has been friendly or frosty, courts want to see children maintain a continuing relationship with the family. Your first guidance will be what you’re legally expected to do for the kids.

But when kids aren’t involved, you can decide whether maintaining a connection with your in-laws is good for you and your own well-being. While divorce doesn’t have to be the end of a family that you’ve built with your ex, neither does it mean you have to keep these people in your orbit. 

Do you care about these people? Do your in-laws want to maintain a relationship? Will it continue to keep emotional wounds open for you? The decision of whether to stay connected to your ex’s family requires self-inquiry into what’s best for you and the nature of your present-day relationship with them. It also involves setting new boundaries

Etiquette for spending time with your in-laws after divorce

Divorce is challenging for everyone, even extended family. While you may want to maintain a warm relationship with your in-laws after your divorce, getting together with them will inevitably result in awkward moments. You can help smooth these encounters by remaining mindful of what you do and say while you’re together. 

Be open and flexible, but maintain boundaries

Your in-laws may be grieving and processing your divorce too. If you’ve had a friendly relationship with them and want to maintain that, you can ask them what level of communication they feel comfortable with going forward. 

Be respectful of your ex in your comments to them

Your ex is their child, and you want to keep your communication with them respectful of that, regardless of any unhappy circumstances surrounding your divorce. 

Be patient

Time has a way of healing relationships, and any future relationship with your in-laws may need time. Let everybody have their own emotional space in the beginning, including you. 

Prioritize your kids

Regardless of how you feel about them as your in-laws, these people are your kids' grandparents. If you can view them through that lens, it can keep things with them diplomatic and cordial if not open and friendly.

Coordinate with your ex

Family occasions and holidays can be difficult to navigate when they involve extended family members. If you can agree on some ground rules and coordinate with your ex regarding gifts, special events, and family holidays, it can make it easier for everyone. 

Family is complicated, and divorce only amplifies that. Whether your in-laws have been difficult to deal with or closer to you than your own family, these relationships often shift after a divorce. There may be nothing you can do to prevent that. 

Be realistic, be open-minded, but most importantly, be true to yourself. Don’t let yourself be guilted into keeping a relationship you don’t want. Remember that this is your life, and making your in-laws happy at your own expense is not your job. You don’t have to maintain communication with these people if you don’t want to. That ship has sailed.

Legal considerations and children's rights

There are legal considerations and children's rights that need to be respected to ensure a healthy and supportive environment for you and your in-laws. Here are some important points to consider.

Legal considerations

  • Custody and visitation: The primary legal consideration regarding staying in touch with in-laws after a divorce often revolves around custody and visitation rights. Read over the custody agreement or court order that outlines the rights and responsibilities of each parent regarding visitation and contact with family members.
  • Court orders: You must adhere to any court orders or custody agreements regarding visitation and contact with in-laws.
  • Communication channels: Certain communication channels may be preferred, while others may be prohibited. This may include phone calls, video chats, social media messaging, or supervised visits.
  • Parental consent: You may need parental consent to continue a relationship with minors after a divorce, especially if there are concerns about safety or well-being.

Children's rights

  • Relationships are voluntary: Children have the right to maintain (and sometimes refuse) relationships with extended family members, as long as it is in their best interests.
  • Emotional support: In-laws can play a supportive role in children's lives during and after a divorce, providing emotional support, stability, and positive relationships that contribute to their well-being.
  • Consent and comfort: Children should have a say if and how to stay in touch with in-laws. Respect their feelings and preferences, and discuss matters with their parents to ensure a healthy relationship.
  • Safety and well-being: All of your contact with your in-laws should prioritize the safety and well-being (physical and emotional) of the children. If the child has disabilities or special health considerations, consult the parents for how to handle them.
  • Age-appropriateness: Tailor your interactions to the children's age and developmental stage.  

If you need help ensuring the rights and safety of children, consult with an expert, such as a family attorney, therapist, or health care provider.

How to initiate a conversation about boundaries with ex-in-laws

It might feel awkward, but it's important to discuss and establish “rules” for your post-divorce relationship and all the changes it might entail. Here are some actionable steps and script examples to guide you through this conversation:

  1.  Choose the right time and place: Talk at a neutral place and time, so both parties feel calm and comfortable. Ideally, this place will be private so you can have an uninterrupted, focused conversation.
  2.  Start with positives: Sample opening script: "I wanted to start by expressing how much I appreciate your role in our family. I am grateful for your love and support [especially toward the kids]. I’d like that to continue." Express your desire to set some boundaries for your new relationship out of respect for everyone involved.
  3.  Explain your boundaries: Specify things like your preferred means and times of communication, how to schedule visits, and how to approach things like medical decisions and other potentially sensitive matters.
  4.  Be specific and clear: You might say something like, "For example, when it comes to scheduling visits with the kids, I think it will work best if we communicate directly rather than going through [your ex’s name]. This should help avoid any confusion."
  5.  Listen and validate their opinions: Ask them about their thoughts and feelings about the boundaries you’re suggesting, and be open to meeting in the middle or at least accommodating some of their requests.
  6.  Find common ground: You may not agree on everything, and that’s okay. Work together to create rules that put the children’s best interests at heart, or that encourage healthy new relationship dynamics.
  7.  Agree on next steps: Go over what you discussed and clarify the rules you’re putting in place going forward. Ask for their feedback, renegotiate if necessary, and agree. It is helpful to write it down and share it, as you did in your divorce agreement (you can also include all of this in your parenting plan).
  8.  Thank them.
  9.  Revisit as needed: As life changes, children grow up, and new people enter your lives, you may need to update your boundaries and rules.

Can I still be an aunt or uncle to my nieces and nephews after divorce?

Divorce changes family dynamics even when the divorce isn’t yours. When your brother or sister divorces, maintaining a relationship with your nieces and nephews may get caught up in the prevailing animosities. Aunts and uncles tend to get overlooked when exes hammer out shared family time, and your relationship can end up as collateral damage. 

Is this fair? Of course not. Kids want and need to maintain important family connections to feel grounded and loved. Depending on what your relationship is with your nieces, nephews, and other extended family members, you can reach out to your sibling to voice your concern and desire to remain part of their lives. But unless they’re adults who can make their own decisions, you will need to abide by the wishes of the family.

Tips for maintaining a relationship with your ex-spouse’s nieces and nephews

Staying connected to your nieces and nephews after a divorce can be crucial for both your own and their emotional well-being. Here are some tips to make it work:

  • Communicate openly and consistently: Let them know that you are there for them and when/how they can reach out to you. Maintain a reliable presence in their lives. 
  • Respect boundaries: Stick to any rules their parents have regarding communication and in-person meetings.
  • Stay involved: Ask about their school, friends, and interests. Offer to come to events or participate in activities when appropriate.
  • Be supportive: Acknowledge that the changes after your divorce might be challenging. Validate their feelings and offer any help you might be able to provide – even if that’s just a listening ear.
  • Don’t take sides: Avoid sharing the details of your divorce, and don’t make them feel like they need to pick a side. Focus on your relationship with them instead of talking about other family members.
  • Create unique experiences: Plan fun and meaningful activities together. You might be able to maintain some traditions, but can also create new ones. Some examples: plan a movie night, start a shared scrapbook, or take them to a museum exhibit you loved.
  • Respect their feelings: They might not want to go along with your new plan right away or might have days when they don’t want to talk. Be sensitive to their feelings and let them know it’s okay, and that you respect their space. Give them time to adjust.
  • Seek help if needed: If you notice that your nieces or nephews are struggling in any way, tell their parents. Do not overstep parental lines.

Common challenges and solutions when dealing with ex-in-laws post-divorce

Dealing with ex-in-laws post-divorce can present some complications. Here are some common challenges and potential solutions:


  • Emotional tension: There may be lingering emotional tension or resentment, especially if the divorce was contentious or difficult.
  • Communication issues: You may have different communication styles, expectations, or unresolved issues from the past.
  • Boundaries: As much as you try to enforce them, boundaries might not be respected or understood.
  • Conflicting loyalties: People may choose sides or feel a sense of loyalty toward one spouse.
  • Parenting differences: Varying parenting styles or disagreements over parental decision-making can create conflict.

Solutions and strategies

  • Focus on respect and civility. Be respectful and polite with your ex-in-laws, even if there are unresolved issues or they trigger negative emotions. Avoid speaking negatively about your ex in front of their family members – even if they agree with you. This is especially important around children.
  • Set clear boundaries. See above for guidance on setting and sticking to boundaries.
  • Prioritize children's well-being. Focus on what's best for the children, fostering positive relationships with their grandparents and extended family members when possible. Maintain open and honest communication with your ex-in-laws about co-parenting arrangements, schedules, and important decisions regarding the children.
  • Establish direct communication channels. Whenever possible, communicate directly. Use email, text messages, or phone calls for clear and concise communication when you can’t meet up in person.
  • Seek professional support. Having trouble? Consider seeking support from a therapist, counselor, or mediator to navigate challenging interactions and communication with ex-in-laws. Mediation can be particularly helpful in resolving conflicts, setting boundaries, and finding mutually agreeable solutions.
  • Focus on common ground: Capitalize on shared interests and positive things you have in common. Or, keep it as neutral as possible.
  • Be flexible. You may not have the exact relationship you hope for, but compromising will get you more of what you want or at least keep the relationship intact. Be willing to adapt, especially in co-parenting situations or when addressing sensitive issues.

Remember that you cannot control how others behave, but you can control how you respond and manage your own boundaries and emotions.

FAQ about in-law relationships after divorce

What if I no longer want contact with my in-laws, but they aren’t moving on?

Your post-divorce life needs to reflect the future you want, not one that continues to live up to everyone else’s expectations. Unless it is ordered by the court to maintain contact with your in-laws for your kids, you don’t have to keep in touch with them, especially if it doesn’t support your well-being and ability to move forward. 

If you’ve had a close relationship with your in-laws, they may have a difficult time understanding this, but you need to do what is best for yourself. Be respectful but firm. This is your right. 

Can I attend family events or gatherings hosted by my former in-laws?

That depends on several factors, including your relationship with them, the circumstances of your divorce or separation, and everyone's comfort levels. If you have a positive relationship with your former in-laws, they may welcome you to their family events. However, if the relationship is strained or contentious, it might be best to respect their space and avoid attending such gatherings. You also need to consider the feelings and preferences of your former spouse. Depending on how recent the divorce or separation is, you might need to give it some time so you can all adjust to the new dynamics.

How can I ensure that my children maintain a positive and healthy relationship with their grandparents and extended family from my ex-spouse's side?

It’s important to allow your children to continue relationships with grandparents on both sides if they want to. Ideally, you’ve worked out the details of this in your parenting plan, but you can also read our blog about grandparent relationships here.

How do I handle awkward or uncomfortable interactions with my former in-laws, especially during family events or holidays?

Ah, yes. We’ve all heard horror stories about dysfunctional family get-togethers. Here are some tips for navigating possibly awkward interactions.

  • Be civil: Regardless of your past and any negative feelings you still have, strive to be polite. Be the bigger person if no one else is being respectful.
  • Set boundaries: Yes, those again. Make certain topics off-limits if you can.
  • Stay calm: Take a deep breath. Take breaks when you can. Avoid feeding into or escalating conflicts.
  • Keep interactions brief: It's okay to keep your interactions short, limited, or with a buffer like your friend or other plans after.
  • Focus on children: If you’re there for the kids, keep it about them. Go in with a cooperative spirit and ask the children what they want to get out of it.
  • Self-care: Take care of yourself emotionally. Permit yourself to step away, take a break, or engage in me-time afterward.

Need more help? We’re here. At Hello Divorce, we have a library of resources to help you navigate issues concerning your divorce before, during, and after. You can also schedule a call with us to hear how we might support you on your journey.

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.