Vaughan Family Lawyers Providing Advice on Grandparent Access

Grandparents can have a considerable impact on a child’s upbringing and overall well-being. In many families, grandparents are a regular presence in a child’s life, whether they reside in the same household or not. They may provide childcare or other respites for parents and financial support. As with many elder family members, grandparents may act as knowledge-keepers and teach the child about their family history, cultural background and heritage, and language.

Disputes over a grandparent’s time with (access to) their grandchild can be emotionally devastating to all involved and create a fracture in the family unit. However, in some situations, a grandparent’s contact may not be in their grandchild’s best interests.

The family lawyers at GDH Family Law in Vaughan have dedicated their careers to helping clients resolve their family law matters as amicably and efficiently as possible. Our experienced team knows the importance of a grandparent’s role in a child’s life and how family conflict can disrupt that relationship. We are attentive to the needs of our clients and their families and provide proactive, reliable advice and representation to ease their concerns.

Contact Orders (Access) for Grandparents

A contact order grants a grandparent the right to spend time regularly with the children and legally obliges the parents to facilitate their access. The order can include conditions that apply to the visitation.

Grandparents, and other non-parent individuals connected to the child, can apply for a contact order under either the federal Divorce Act or Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act. Which Act governs the grandparents’ court application depends on the parents’ relationship. If the parents are or were legally married, the Divorce Act applies, while the Children’s Law Reform Act governs unmarried parents or common law partners. Unlike parents, grandparents must get the court’s permission to apply for an order.

Obtaining a Contact Order

A court must be satisfied that contact between the grandparent and child is in the child’s best interests. Determining whether contact is in the child’s best interests requires consideration of the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

The federal and provincial legislation governing grandparent rights in Ontario set out the following factors for determining whether the order sought is in the child’s best interests:

  • The child’s needs, considering the child’s age and stage of development;
  • The nature and strength of the relationship between the child and the grandparent;
  • The history of the child’s care and upbringing;
  • The child’s views and preferences, depending on their age and maturity;
  • The child’s cultural background and heritage, including language, religion, and spiritual upbringing (particularly where a child is of Indigenous heritage); and
  • The effect the contact between the grandparent and child would have on the child’s well-being.

Parental Denial of Grandparent Contact

Parents deny grandparents access (contact) to their grandchildren for various reasons. In some cases, a grandparent’s conduct or influence on the child is detrimental to the child’s well-being. In other cases, parents may unreasonably prohibit contact out of spite or due to the conflict between the parents.

Generally speaking, a parent’s wishes regarding someone’s access to their child are given deference by the courts. When the parents are separated, the courts will try to respect the autonomy of the parent with primary decision-making responsibility. However, courts consider the circumstances of each case, including any animosity between the parents and their respective families.

Where a grandparent has been denied access to their grandchild and applies for a contact order, courts consider the following:

  1. Whether a positive relationship already exists between the grandparent and child;
  2. Whether the parent’s decision to withhold contact jeopardized that relationship; and
  3. Whether the parent acted arbitrarily or unreasonably in withholding contact.

As mentioned above, the primary consideration encompassing these factors is the child’s best interests. If a contact order is granted and violated by the parents (for example, by their failure to facilitate visits), the grandparent has the right to enforce the order in court. A court can address the parents’ breach through various remedies, including legal costs and by finding the parent(s) in contempt of court.

Family Violence and Contact Orders

A contact order will not be deemed to be in the child’s best interests if the grandparent in question poses a risk to the child’s safety. In other cases, a parent with a history of family violence may encourage their parents to apply for a contact order hoping that the grandparents will help the parent gain access to the child (which may breach the terms of their parenting time).

In such situations, a court will review the circumstances of the family violence and the history of the grandparents’ involvement with the child. The court will need to determine whether the grandparents are likely to comply with any restrictions on their contact, particularly regarding unauthorized access to the child’s parent.

Parenting Orders for Grandparents

In addition to contact orders, a grandparent can apply under the Divorce Act or Children’s Law Reform Act for a parenting order. Parenting orders grant a person parenting time and/or decision-making responsibility for a child. A grandparent must first ask a court for permission to apply for a parenting order.

As with contact orders, the primary factor a court must consider before granting a parenting order is the child’s best interests. A court may find that it is in the child’s best interests for a grandparent to stand in place of a parent, through parenting time and/or decision-making responsibility, where the parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child.

Contact GDH Family Law in Vaughan for Guidance on Grandparent Rights

GDH Family Law has extensive experience helping clients with various family law issues, including disputes over a grandparent’s role in a child’s life. We have experience representing clients in alternative dispute resolution methods (including negotiation, mediation, and arbitration) and in court. Our compassionate team works to understand the unique circumstances of each client’s family and provides creative legal solutions that deliver results.

We are based in Vaughan and represent clients in the surrounding areas, including Maple, Concord, Woodbridge, Markham, Kleinburg, Richmond Hill, Nobleton, Toronto, Newmarket, Aurora, Brampton, Caledon, Mississauga, Etobicoke, North York, Thornhill, and King City. For a free initial consultation on your family matter, contact us at 416-535-6944 or reach out online.