We’ve previously blogged about grandparent’s access rights to grandchildren and related custody battles, this week we discuss a potentially precedent-setting situation of two grandparents who are being sued by the mother of their grandchild for child-support.

What Happened?

Two North Bay grandparents were in court last week to fight a claim filed by the mother of their 10-year old granddaughter who is seeking $760 a month in child support going forward, as well as $47,000 in retroactive child support. She has also asked the court to cut off the grandparents’ access rights to the grandchild if they do not pay her the amount that she wants.

The mother’s lawyer did not provide any details about the specifics of the matter but did tell CBC News that he planned to argue that the grandparents had been “more than grandparents” to the grandchild and should therefore pay child support.

The grandparents had emergency custody of the grandchild for a period of about eight months in 2010, under orders from the Children’s Aid Society. They were also official parties in a custody dispute between the grandchild’s mother and their son. They were not present when the court made its final decision in that dispute and were simply informed of it afterwards by their son (father of their grandchild). This previous involvement has now potentially opened the floodgates to a child support claim by the mother. Their son has since passed away.

The Law

The law around grandparents’ rights to grandchildren continues to evolve. While grandparents have recently obtained expanded rights in custody matters, there is still a grey area.

In some instances where a court determines that grandparents have had to stand in for a parent (usually where the grandparent has custody of a child) the grandparents are required to make child support payments.

Last year’s changes to the Children’s Law Reform Act which granted grandparents standing at custody hearings involving their grandchildren and provided them with the right to obtain court-ordered access and visitation may have an impact on this case. While the amendments to the Act are not related to child support, granting grandparents legal standing and allowing them to argue for access may open the door to those grandparents being forced to pay child support. It remains to be seen how this situation will play out.

In the meantime, the grandparents at the center of this legal battle told CBC News:

We love [our grandchild] to pieces, and we’d do anything for her. But she’s not our child. It’s not our job to pay child support payments. Never ever should a grandparent be obligated to pay child support because they want to do what’s best for their grandchild.

The grandparents do not know what to expect from the court process, but worry that they will not be the first grandparents to have to contend with this. They note:

We miss our son so much and we look at our granddaughter and you see things in her and you can see her dad in her. The thought of not being able to see her and be part of her life is one of the scariest things as a grandparent.

We will continue to follow developments in this matter and will blog further if more information becomes available. In the meantime, if you have questions about child custody, particularly in complex circumstances involving grandparents or other extended family, contact Windsor family lawyer Jason Howie at 519.973.1500 or contact us online. We serve clients in Windsor, Essex County and throughout the region.