Late last year we blogged about two North Bay grandparents who were fighting a claim filed by the mother of their 10-year old granddaughter who was seeking almost $800 a month in child support, plus an additional $47,000 in retroactive child support (dating back to 2013, when the grandparents’ son, and father of the grandchild, died in an accident. The mother had also told the grandparents that she would ask the court to eliminate their access rights to the grandchild if they did not comply with her demands.
The court has now reached a decision, finding that the couple does not owe any support to the mother of their granddaughter.
Grandparents Rights in Ontario Family Law
Grandparents’ rights have been expanding in recent years as courts recognize that non-traditional families are becoming increasingly common, and that family members other than a mother or father may want to, for instance, exercise access rights to see their grandchildren.
Grandparents who feel isolated or cut off from their grandchildren have long fought for legal recognition under family law. A number of organizations operating collectively, including Cangrands (a national group based in Canada) and Alienated Grandparents Anonymous (an international group based in Florida), had worked with the Ontario NDP government to increase the options grandparents have to see their families. Their lobbying culminated in the passing of Bill 34 in 2006.
Bill 34 (An Act to amend the Children’s Law Reform Act with respect to the relationship between a child and the child’s grandparents), provided grandparents with the ability to apply to court for child custody or access. The legislation does not give grandparents automatic access to their grandkids but does allow them to participate in the court process needed to do so.
Six earlier versions of Bill 34 were previously proposed and rejected. The lobby groups estimated that about 75,000 grandparents in Ontario had, over the years, been denied access to more than 100,000 grandchildren leading to “needless alienation, pain and suffering”.
While grandparents had fought for, and won, greater legal rights, this case had the potential to be precedent-setting for grandparents across the province and could have created a legal obligation where none had existed before.
The judge hearing the case rejected the mother’s argument that the grandparents were the grandchild’s de facto parents, noting that the grandparents had not displayed a “settled intention” to treat the grandchild as their own child.
The grandparents were pleased with this aspect of the court decision, with the grandmother noting:
I think the system realized that grandparents are a big part of their grandchildren’s lives and that grandparents play a bigger role in their grandchildren’s lives than they did long ago.
The grandparents did, however, tell CBC News that they will be returning to court because the judge had agreed with the mother that the grandparents should get less time with the grandchild. Their access has now been restricted to once a month, instead of the previous every second weekend, and every Wednesday. The grandparents say that the grandchild is not happy with this turn of events.
The grandfather also notes that he plans to set up a website and uploading their court documents so that other grandparents in similar situations will have assistance with their own court matters.
If you have questions about child custody or access, particularly in complex circumstances involving grandparents or other extended family, contact Windsor family lawyer Jason Howie at 519.973.1500 or contact us online. As a Certified as a Specialist in Family Law by the Law Society of Ontario, Jason has seen all of the possible permutations when it comes to family law. Jason’s many years of focused experience helping families have earned him respect and distinction. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.