When a relationship between parent(s) and grandparent(s) breaks down, questions often arise over whether a parent can limit the contact a grandparent has with their child, or whether a grandparent has legal rights to such contact.
In Ontario, family law matters arising over parenting time and contact are governed by the Children’s Law Reform Act (CLRA). While the CLRA recognizes the importance of children maintaining meaningful relationships with extended family, grandparents (and other extended family members) do not have a legal right or an automatic entitlement to contact with grandchildren.
Instead, if the parent(s) of a child are not willing to facilitate contact with the child’s grandparent(s), the grandparent(s) must apply to the court for what is called a Contact Order under section 21(3) of the CLRA.
In considering whether to grant a Contact Order under the CLRA, the legal test is what is in the child’s best interest. In considering the best interests of the child, the paramount consideration for the court will always be the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological safety, security, and well-being.
In dealing with the difficult task of balancing competing views of grandparents and parents, courts will often use the following analysis in deciding whether to defer to the decision of the parent(s) to limit contact:
- Does a positive grandparent-grandchild relationship already exist?
- Has the parent’s decision imperiled the positive grandparent-grandchild relationship? and
- Has the parent acted arbitrarily?
If the above questions are answered in the affirmative, the court will consider whether contact is in the best interests of the child, taking into account the non-exhaustive list of factors set out in the CLRA at section 24(3). These include, but are not limited to, the child’s age and need for stability, the nature and strength of the child’s relationship with the grandparent(s), the ability for the grandparent(s) to positively contribute to the child’s life, and if appropriate, the views and preferences of the child. Courts have also considered the extent to which a Contact Order would cause anxiety and stress for the parent(s), which in turn could have a deleterious impact on the child.
Ultimately, a parent can only limit what contact a grandparent has over their child insofar as it is in the child’s best interest to do so, however the burden of proof in challenging this rests with the grandparent. This can be a complex process that requires clear evidence. If you’re a grandparent seeking contact with your grandchild, or a parent seeking to limit your child’s contact with a grandparent, a family lawyer who has experience navigating this process can help.