Typically, grandparents have access visits with their grandchildren during the time allotted to the children's parents.
What happens to grandparental access, however, where a parent does not seek access entitlements, does not reside in the jurisdiction to exercise access, or is otherwise estranged from the child's grandparents?
The sad reality in such circumstances is that often the once-cherished relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can become distant and estranged. In many cases, this is a bad development for grandparents and grandchildren alike.
The legitimate concerns that many grandparents have about access to their grandchildren were recently brought to the forefront with Ontario Bill 34, also known as the Children's Law Reform Amendment Act (Relationship with Grandparents), 2016.
This Bill, which has now been enacted as law, effective early December, provides for the entitlements of grandparents to be formally recognized in the statute by virtue of the following additions to the CLRA:
Historically, however, the Courts have been reluctant to order independent grandparental access, especially in the high-conflict family circumstances in which many access applications by grandparents have typically been brought.
Speaker, from the beginning when we started the debate on this bill, our government was clear that we supported the ability of grandparents to seek assistance from the Family Courts in cases where they have been unfairly denied access visits to their grandchildren. At the same time, we wanted to ensure that any decision about access to a child will continue to be made in the child’s best interests. The law must always focus on the needs of children. That was the approach we took to this bill. I know that every member of this Legislature agrees with that statement.
To provide some background to all members, under Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act, a grandparent already has the ability to obtain an order for access to their grandchild if it is found to be in the child’s best interest. Under the current law, our courts must consider the “love, affection and emotional ties” between a child and any person who is applying for custody or access. This includes grandparents in any instance where the child’s grandparents are an active part of the child’s life. I want to stress that particular point. So this is not an entirely new concept. It does already exist in law.
This bill is about supporting the ability of grandparents to seek assistance from the Family Court and ensuring that any decision about access to a child will continue to be made in the child’s best interests. We have always supported this bill’s purpose because, Speaker, it would be a shame if a loving and caring grandparent was not able to have access to their grandchild. We want to ensure that in these cases, we are facilitating this relationship that is focused on supporting the best interests of children.
The reality is, while in many cases grandparents play a necessary and positive role in the lives of children, there are circumstances where it is not practical or appropriate to extend this legal authority. That is why, Speaker, we put forward an amendment at committee that would make it clear that grandparents have the ability to seek a court order for access to their grandchild under the Children’s Law Reform Act. At the same time, it would ensure that a court remains focused on determining what arrangement would be in the best interests of the children involved.
- Garry J. Wise, Senior Counsel, Toronto