We recently highlighted a CBCNews article that discussed the plight of grandparents who have been denied access to their grandchildren after the separation or divorce of their child. An estimated 75,000 Ontario grandparents have been denied access to about 112,000 children.
A private member’s bill that aims to ensure courts give grandparents a chance to make their case for access to children during custody disputes has received second reading in the legislature. Six previous versions of the bill have died, either because elections were called or the legislature was prorogued. New Democrat Michael Mantha, who introduced the bill, describes it as follows:
“This bill is really focused on grandchildren’s rights as well, because denying them access to their grandparents is detrimental to their well-being, to their upbringing,”… “Many children find being with grandpa and grandma is a safe and trustworthy environment, and environment of love.”
Ontario is Lagging Behind
Five other Canadian jurisdictions – Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Yukon and Quebec – have all passed legislation to address grandparents’ rights. In Ontario, a grandparent has the ability to obtain an order for access to his or her grandchild, if it is found to be in the child’s best interests, but that ability is not automatic. The new legislation would ensure courts give grandparents the chance to make their case.
The Best Interests of the Children
Members of Ottawa group Alienated Grandparents Anonymous have been pushing to change Ontario’s law since 2005. Grandparents argue they can provide guidance and security that is sometimes lacking at home. Unfortunately, parents sometimes use their children as pawns in divorces, denying them access to grandparents and isolating them from family members. Some argue this needless alienation, pain and suffering amounts to psychological and emotional abuse.
Maintain Positive Family Relationships
Whether Ontario passes new legislation or not, it is critical for grandparents seeking ongoing access to grandchildren to do their best to maintain positive family relationships with the children’s parents. Ideally it will not be necessary for a grandparent to bring a court application to maintain a loving and close relationship with his or her grandchild. If familial relationships devolve into bitterness and threats, especially over the issue of access to children, a court may very well side with a parent in denying access, as it will not be in the child’s best interest to involve him or her in such a toxic push and pull scenario.
A fairly recent example of a case in which a court denied grandparents access to a grandchild can be found in B. v. R., a 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island. In that case, the grandfather sent over 100 emails to the child’s mother, which were full of threats, ultimatums and foul language. The mother was frightened and concerned for the safety of her child and, as a result, the Court concluded that it was clearly in the child’s best interests to deny access.
If you have questions about rights of custody and access, or any other family law matter, please contact Gelman & Associates at (416) 736-0200 or 1-844-742-0200 or contact us online for a confidential initial consultation.