Grandparent-Grandchild Access: A Legal Analysis

CONCLUSION

The role that non-parents, particularly grandparents, can play in the lives of children can be positive and enriching.  However, many family circumstances do not fit the Norman Rockwell image that is popularly held of grandparents.  That some situations of access by a grandparent to a grandchild have entered the courtroom suggests that the traditional notion of "one big happy family" must be examined critically, and that sentimental, nostalgic assumptions should be challenged in each case.  More extensive empirical research is needed into contemporary grandparenting roles in general and into high conflict access situations, in particular.  As Thompson et al. stated:

The vagueness of statutory language concerning the "best interests" guideline and the limited amount of research concerning grandparent and grandchild relationships make it difficult to know what factors to evaluate—and how to evaluate them—when grandparents petition for visitation rights.…  Given the variability and complexity of individual grandparent-grandchild relationships and the families in which they occur, effective judicial assessment of the child’s "best interests" is undermined by the absence of reliable clinical or research procedures for answering these questions—or even knowing the proper questions to ask.[177]

It may be that in appropriate cases mediation can help grandparents and parents come together to work out an access arrangement that allows grandchildren to maintain an existing relationship with their grandparents, while at the same time allowing the parents to preserve their primary role in their children’s lives.

However, if the matter is litigated, the manner in which the courts deal with access claims between parents would usually not be the same as it would between a grandparent and a parent.  As such, the tests to determine the appropriateness of access should be reviewed to determine which best serves the interests of children in the context of their nuclear family unit, however constituted.  As indicated, legislatures should consider amending their relevant statutes, which would require holding a two-stage hearing to determine the appropriateness of grandparent-grandchild access in each case.  Certainly, if it can be first demonstrated that a child may be harmed by the cessation of pre-existing access, then the courts should consider the application based on the best interests test.  When harm cannot be shown then it is recommended that there be no further inquiry.  To do otherwise is for the state to intrude into the realm of the parent-child relationship in a manner that may now countervene the Charter.

Broadening statutory entitlement for grandparents and others to have access to children along the lines of article 611 of the Civil Code of Quebec, as recommended by the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access,[178] is clearly contrary to the judicial trend in both Canada and the United States.  This trend is respectful of constitutional considerations and of the parent-child relationship.

As Professor Sherry Colb commented:

The Court in Troxel v. Granville… demonstrated as much respect for contemporary reality as it did for the nuclear family.  To be a parent is to take on enormous responsibility for deciding what is best for one’s child.  It involves facing the certain knowledge that sometimes one’s decisions will have been wrong.  When they embark on that most serious endeavor, it is critical for parents that no one be given an automatic right to ask a court to second-guess their decisions, not even a grandparent.  The reality of responsible parenthood carries with it the privilege of having one’s decision be final in most circumstances.  Nothing about the Court’s decision in Troxel, however, prevents people who have shared the role of custodial parent from asking a judge to give that reality the weight it deserves as well.[179]

To give most parents decision-making authority about the individuals with whom they wish their children to associate is not simply a parents’ rights perspective.  By bringing some peace and stability to a nuclear family, it is also, more importantly, a perspective that provides for the best interests of children.  As Thompson et al. observed:

These [various] legal proposals assume, however, that adjudicated solutions to domestic disputes of this kind are desirable.  Alternatively, however, it might be wise to question the assumption that family law should strive to protect all the significant relationships which a child shares with adults.  Given the complexity of both children’s needs and family functioning, the fact that the law is a blunt instrument for ensuring relational ties should introduce caution into efforts to extend legal protection to the relationships with non-parental figures possibly significant to children.  While children doubtlessly benefit from the various adults contributing to their development, these relationships are meaningful as they occur naturally, not as they are judicially enforced.  Legalizing the ties that bind may, in the end, undermine the relationships nurturing the children we seek to assist.[180]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • B. (M.) v. W. (C.), (1998) 31 R.F.L. (4th) 351 (N.S. Fam. Ct.)
  • B. (R.) v. Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto, (1994) 9 R.F.L. (4th) 157 (S.C.C.)
  • Barr v. Gattinger, [1999] S.J. No. 568 (Sask. U.F.C.) (QL)
  • Beaumont v. Fransden, [1995] O.J. No. 425 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.)
  • Blium v. Blium, (May 16, 2001), Ontario 8269/00 (Ont. S.C.J.) [unreported]
  • Blium v. Blium, (Sept. 21, 2001) Ontario 59638/01 (Ont. Div. Ct.) [unreported]
  • Bourgeois v. Bastarache, (1993) 138 N.B.R. (2d) (N.B.Q.B.)
  • C.G.W. v. M. J. and A.C., (1982) 24 R.F.L. (2d) 342 (Ont. C.A.)
  • Carter v. Brooks, (1990) 30 R.F.L. (3d) 53 (Ont. C.A.)
  • Chabot v. Halliday, (1993) W.D.F.L. 083 (Ont. Ct. Gen. Div.)
  • Chapman v. Chapman, (28 March 2000), Ontario 1131/98 (Ont. S.C.J.) [unreported]
  • Chapman v. Chapman, [2001] O.J. No. 705 (Ont. C.A.)
  • Cole v. Nevill, [1991] O.J. No. 2446 (Ont. Ct. Prov. Div.) (QL)
  • Cormier v. Cormier, (1995) 163 N.B.R. (2d) 323 (N.B.Q.B. Fam. Div.)
  • Cyrenne v. Moar, (1986) 2 R.F.L. (3d) 414 (Man. C.A.)
  • D. (G.) v. M. (G.), (1999) 47 R.F.L. (4th) 16 (N.W.T.S.C.)
  • D. W. v. M.P., [1998] O.J. No. 2998 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.) (QL)
  • Daley v. Daley, (1992) 124 N.S.R. (2d) 273; 345 A.P.R. 273 (N.S. Fam. Ct.)
  • DeBruyn v. Turner, [1998] O.J. No. 1544 (O.C.J. Gen. Div.) (QL)
  • Deshane v. Perry, [1988] O.J. No. 2438 (Ont. Ct. Prov. Div.) (QL)
  • Dhaliwal v. Beloud, (1998) 38 R.F.L. (4th) 345 (B.C.C.A.)
  • Dolphin Delivery v. R.W.D.S.U., [1986] 2 S.C.R. 573
  • F. (N.) v. S. (H.L.), (1999) 49 R.F.L. (4th) 250 (B.C.C.A.)
  • Finnegan v. Desjardins, [1985] O. J. No. 725 (Ont. C.A.) (QL)
  • Fleming v. Fleming, [1999] C.C.L. 5070 (S.C.J.)
  • G. (M.L.) v. G. (K.L.), [1992] B.C.J. No. 1118 (B.C.S.C.) (QL)
  • G. (M.L.). v. G. (K.L.), (1993) 49 R.F.L. (3d) 437 (B.C.C.A.)
  • Gallant v. Jackson, (1994) 7 R.F.L. (4th) 391 (O.C.J. Gen. Div.)
  • Gordon v. Goertz, (1996) 19 R.F.L. (4th) 177 (S.C.C.)
  • Greber v. Moskowitz, [1982] O.J. No. 595 (Ont. Prov. Ct. Fam. Div.) (QL)
  • Hafer v. Stewart, (1984) 34 Man. R. (2d) 158 (Man. C.A.)
  • Hooper v. Hooper, (1997) 23 R.F.L. (4th) 441 (N.B.Q.B. Fam. Div.)
  • Jayaratham v. Devarajan, (1991) 105 N.S.R. (2d) 9, 284 A.P.R. 9 (N.S. Fam. Ct.)
  • Ligate v. Richardson, (1997) 34 O.R. (3d) 423 (Ont. C.A.)
  • Lusher v. Lusher, (1998) 13 R.F.L. (3d) 201 (Ont. Prov. Ct. Fam. Div.)
  • M. v. W. and R., (1985) 45 R.F.L. (2d) 337 (B.C.S.C.)
  • MacGyver v. Richards, (1995) 22 O.R. (3d) 481 (Ont. C.A.)
  • McLellan v. Glidden, (1996) 23 R.F.L. (4th) 106 (N.B.Q.B. Fam. Div.)
  • Meloche v. Frank, [1991] O.J. No. 1114 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.) (QL)
  • Moreau v. Cody, (1995) 15. R.F.L. (4th) 174 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.)
  • Morecraft v. Morecraft, (1991) 122 N.B.R. (2d) 271 (N.B.Q.B. Fam. Div.)
  • Nelson v. Kroetsch, [1996] O.J. No. 2912 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.) (QL)
  • New Brunswick (Minister of Health) v. G. (J.), (1990) 50 R.F.L. (4th) 63
  • P. (D.) v. S. (C.), (1993) 49 R.F.L. (3d) 317 (S.C.C.).
  • Panny v. Gifford, (1997) 31 R.F.L. (4th) 440 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.)
  • Paulini v. Schmidt, [1993] O.J. No. 2907 (O.C.J. Gen. Div.) (QL)
  • Peck v. Peck, [1996] O.J. No. 755 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.) (QL)
  • Rice v. Rice, (1992) 42 R.F.L. (3d) 281 (N.B.Q.B. Fam. Div.)
  • Ruth v. Young, [1998] B.C.J. No. 961 (B.C.S.C.) (QL)
  • Salter v. Borden, (1991) 31 R.F.L. (3d) 48 (N. S. Fam. Ct.)
  • Stewart v. MacDonnell, (1992) 39 R.F.L. (3d) 163 (N.S. Fam. Ct.)
  • T. (A.H.) v. P. (E.), (1995) 173 A.R. 369 (Alta. Q.B.)
  • T. (A.H.) v. P. (E.), (1995) 20 R.F.L. (4th) 115 (Alta. C.A.)
  • V. (G.) v. S. (L.), (1997) 35 R.F.L. (4th) 122 (O.C.J. Prov. Div.)
  • Vormittag v. Vormittag, [1984] O.J. No. 760 (Ont. Prov. Ct. Fam. Div.) (QL)
  • W. (C. G.) v. J. (M.), (1982) 24 R.F.L. (2d) 342 (Ont. C.A.)
  • W. (M.) v. W. (D.), [2000] A.J. No. 1082 (Alta. Prov. Ct.) (QL)
  • White v. Mathews, [1997] S.C.J. No. 604 (N.S. Fam. Ct.) (QL)
  • Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. K.L.W. [2000] S.C.J. No. 48 (S.C.C.) (QL)
  • Wylde v. Wylde, [1984] O.J. No. 764 (Ont. Prov. Ct. Fam. Div.) (QL)
  • Young v. Young, (1993) 108. D.L.R. (4th) 193 (S.C.C.)
  • Bennett v. Jeffreys, 356 N.E. 2d 277 (N.Y. App. 1976)
  • Hawk v. Hawk, 855 S.W. (2d) 573 (Tenn. 1993)
  • In re Aubin 29 S.W. (3d) 199 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2000)
  • In re Marriage of Wellman, 104 Cal. App. 3d 992 (1980)
  • King v. King, 828 S.W. (2d) 630 (Ky. 1992)
  • Kyle O. v. Donald R. et al., 85 Cal. App. (4th) 848 (2000)
  • Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923)
  • Mimkon v. Ford, 332 A. 2d 199 (N.J. 1975)
  • Parham v. J.R. et al., 442 U.S. 584 (1979)
  • Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)
  • Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944)
  • Punsly et al. v. Manwah Ho, 87 Cal. App 4th 1099 (2001)
  • Re Custody of Sara Skyanne Smith et al., 137 Wn. 2nd 1 (Wash. 1998)
  • Roberts v. Ward, 126 N.H. 388 (1985)
  • Shadders v. Brock, 420 N.Y.S. 2d 697 (N.Y. Fam. Ct. 1979)
  • Troxel v. Granville, 120 S. Ct. 2054 (2000)
  • Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)
  • Brief Amici Curiae of the American Association of Retired Persons and Generations United, filed November 12, 1999.
  • Brief Amicus Curiae of the American Center for Law and Justice Supporting Respondent, filed December 10, 1999.  Brief Amici Curiae of the Christian Legal Society and The National Association of Evangelicals, filed December 13, 1999.
  • Brief of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders as Amici Curiae, filed December 13, 1999.
  • Brief Amicus Curiae of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Washington, filed December 13, 1999.
  • Brief Amicus Curriae of the National Association of Counsel for Children, filed December 13, 1999.
  • Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.) 1982, c.11
  • Children’s Act, R.S.Y. 1986, c.22, as am. by S.Y. 1998, c.4
  • Children’s Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, chap. C.12
  • Civil Code of Quebec, Art. 611 C.C.Q.
  • Divorce Act, R.S.C. 1985, chap. 3
  • Family Relations Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c.128, as am. by S.B.C. 1998, c.28
  • Family Services Act, S.N.B. 1980, c. F-2.2
  • Provincial Court Act, R.S.A. 1980 c. p-20
  • U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1, cl. 2
  • Wash. Rev. Code § 26.10.160 (3) (Supp.1996)
  • Bala, Nicholas, 2000-01 "The Charter of Rights and Family Law in Canada:  A New Era" Canada: Canadian Family Law Quarterly.  18: 373.
  • Bala, Nicholas and Jaremko, Rebecca, "Canada:  Non-Marital Unions, Finality of Separation Agreements and Children’s Issues".  Submitted for publication in The International Survey of Family Law 2002, Andrew Bainham, ed. Jordans.
  • Bean, Kathleen S., 1985-86 "Grandparent Visitation: Can the Parent Refuse?" University of Louiseville Journal of Family Law. 24: 393.
  • Bohl, Joan Catherine, 2000 "Grandparent Visitation Law Grows Up: The Trend Toward Awarding Visitation Only When the Child Would Otherwise Suffer Harm." Drake Law Review 48: 279.
  • Canada Special Joint Committee on Custody and Access. For the Sake of the Children. Ottawa.
  • Cogswell, Carolyn and Henry, Carolyn S., 1995 "Grandchildren’s Perceptions of Grandparental Support in Divorced & Intact Families." Journal of Remarriage and Divorce 23 (3/4): 127.
  • Colb, Sherry, 2000 King Solomon in the 21st Century.  Findlaw: King Solomon in the 21st Century, June 28.
  • Derdeyn, Andre P., 1985 "Grandparent Visitation Rights:  Rendering Family Dissension More Pronounced?" American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 277.
  • Jackson, Anne Marie, 1994 "The Coming of Age of Grandparent Visitation Rights." American University Law Review 43: 563.
  • McLeod, James G. and Mamo, Alfred A., 1999 Annual Review of Family Law. Carswell.
  • Thompson, Ross A., Scalora, Mario J., Limber, Susan P. and Castrianno, Lynn, 1991 "Grandparent Visitation Rights A Psycholegal Analysis." Family and Conciliation Courts Review 29(1):9.
  • Wilks, Corinne and Melville, Catherine., 1990 "Grandparents in Custody and Access Disputes." Journal of Divorce.  13(3):1.
  • Wynn Legal Defense Fund., 1999 http://www.parentsrights.org/troxel/wynnlet.html 
Date modified: