21 April 2013

Backbencher's Bill on Grandparental Rights Tabled in Ontario

The Globe & Mail has reported on a bill tabled by Liberal MPP Kim Craitor and NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo in the Ontario legislative assembly. The bill would amend the Children's Law Reform Act, a law dealing with the consequences of separation like our Family Law Act but limited to matters concerning children, to allow for "the formation or the continuation of a personal relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild."

The Globe article describes Craitor as saying that grandparents' access to their children can be cut off "when children are used as pawns in a nasty divorce," and provides the following rather melodramatic quotes:
"Far too often what I have seen is that when a couple separates or gets a divorce ... sadly what happens is the relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild diminishes." 
"If you can imagine, a grandparent is no longer allowed to see their grandchild. It's just a horrible thing." 
"I could spend 30 hours telling you all the stories that I've heard and you'd probably shed a lot of tears when you hear from grandparents who've been denied access to their grandchildren." 
"[Grandparents are] more than just relatives. They can provide guidance, they can provide security that the children lack sometimes at home, they provide support, stability a sense of self to the children seeking love and understanding."
Our Family Law Act, like the Family Relations Act before it, says that grandparents can apply for contact (or even guardianship) but provides them no privileged status over other extended family members or even unrelated strangers, and the courts have approached the issue from the perspective that the people with the primary entitlement to time with a child are the child's parents.

Frankly, I'm not sure that this isn't appropriate. I do recognize that grandparents have a special role in a child's life, but the legislation that is designed to guide parents and the courts in handling family breakdown is complicated enough. Family law disputes are quite complex and take an enormous amount of time to resolve as it is; do we really need to add four more parties to the dispute between a child's parents? I have no issue with statements recognizing the special value of relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, but if the new bill proposes to give grandparents a particular standing in the legal dispute between separated parents, I cannot see how the extension of conflict and cost could possibly be in the best interests of the children.