“Family” doesn’t just mean children and parents. For many people, grandparents can provide an equal – and sometimes greater – positive influence and sense of stability, especially when the nuclear family is going through a crisis like a divorce or custody battle.
That is why Ontario’s Bill 34, also known as the Children’s Law Reform Amendment Act, gives more legal recognition of the rights of grandparents to visit the child, and consider them in custody cases.
Until the Bill was passed in December, an estimated 75,000 grandparents had very limited or even no access to their grandchildren. This was caused by a number of factors: complicated relationships with their children, or messy divorces that broke down the couple’s relationships not only with each other but other family members.
Unfortunately, the children are caught in this conflict and cut off from a possible source of support, safety and security.
Grandparents have turned to support groups and been vocal about their desire to be part of their grandchildren’s lives. Many of them had asked the courts to intervene. Unfortunately, until the Children’s Law Reform Amendment Act was passed, these grandparents hit a legal dead end because there was no basis for their right to access.
The amendment corrects the issue and recognizes the “elevated role” of grandparents in a child’s life.
The role of courts and litigation is to help people work through problems in a fair and just way. However, Family Law often deals with cases that are complicated by emotional factors. It is normal for animosity to build — muddying the issue and fracturing relationships even further.
In this situation, the one clear directive of the court is to protect the child. “The courts will consider anything that’s in the best interests of the kids,” explains Paul Mazzeo, family lawyer and principal of Mazzeo Law.
If children enjoy a strong emotional bond with the grandparents, and if access will not endanger the child, or if the parent is acting arbitrarily and there is no strong reason to say that limiting grandparent access is in the child’s best interests, then Children’s Law Reform Amendment Act provides the court a legal basis to intervene.
The amendment also provides further legal guidance on what defines the situations when the law can be applied, and what constitutes as a positive and supportive relationship.
The Children’s Law Reform Amendment was implemented in December and brings Ontario in line with other provinces.
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