Late last year, Bill 34 received Royal Assent in Ontario, giving hope to grandparents who believe that they are being unfairly denied access to their grandchildren. The Bill amends sections 21 and 24 of the Children’s Law Reform Act to specifically include grandparents as other individuals who may make an application to a court for access to a child. It is estimated that there are 75,000 grandparents in Ontario who are being denied access to grandchildren.
So what does this amendment mean? By specifically adding grandparents to the legislation, the court must consider the relationship between child and grandparent in cases where grandparents are making an application for access to their grandchild(ren). The addition of “grandparents” to these sections, however, does not give them special standing or additional rights. In considering any claim for access, the court must still consider what is in the best interests of the child(ren). The best interests test remains paramount in any decision regarding custody or access. In light of this specific inclusion of grandparents, however, the legislation now expressly provides that in deciding an application for access to a child by a grandparent, the court must consider the relationship and the love, affection and emotional ties between child and grandparent. The hope of grandparents who are in this difficult situation is that the particular circumstances of their relationship with their grandchild will be considered in cases where there is no evidence supporting the parents’ denial of access. Certainly children’s relationships with grandparents are often very positive and loving and this legislation aims to address situations in which parents are denying grandparents’ access out of anger or spite, not where there are legitimate reasons for the denial or where no relationship has existed.
There is no doubt that these types of cases are fraught with emotion on both sides. Parents may feel that they have good reason for denying access while grandparents may not understand or accept why they are being alienated from their grandchildren. The best case scenario, of course, is that the parents and grandparents can resolve their disagreement through methods other than litigation, whether that be by way of counselling or some form of alternative dispute resolution. Ultimately, if parents and grandparents can focus on what is truly in the best interests of the child(ren), the hope is that litigation can be avoided and family relationships repaired.