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Restoring extended family after Ontario separation and divorce

The statistics on the rate of marriages ending in divorce can often be disheartening. It's easy to forget that such cold data excludes the value of extended family members who frequently might offer support to the reconfigured lives of those who have undergone separation and divorce. Last year, Ontario family law recognized grandparents as distinct from "any person"who could apply for access to or custody of the children of divorced parents.

In this, Ontario has caught up with the majority of its sister provinces. Prior to this monumental legal change, no legal provision for grandparents was enshrined in the province's Children's Law Reform Act. Like anyone else, they could be granted custody of a grandchild if the court saw sufficient reason to do so. Legal custody is a specific legal status with a wide range of responsibilities, and wholly based on the best interests of the child, rather than that of a parent or relative. Alternatively, depending on the circumstances of a particular case, the court could uphold a parent's request to limit or even ban contact with grandparents.

Two widely divergent reports on the value of grandparents emerged recently. A young couple who just relocated to Sudbury were actively seeking seniors to act as grandparents to their children. Their belief in grandparenting as an important part of child-raising is likely shared by many divorcing couples, anxious to ensure that a divorce does not leave their child bereft of extended family. In stark contrast, a recent court case concerns a parent insisting that grandparents should pay for access to their grandchild.

It remains to be seen whether this relatively new legal appreciation for grandparents has created one of the more nebulous areas in family law. An Ontario family law practice with resources such as trained mediators and family consultants might be best able to shepherd a client with children through such seismic shifts in child custody and access legislation. Separation and divorce constitute life-changing experiences, not just for a couple, but also for their children and all those who love them.

Source: cbc.ca, "North Bay grandparents being sued for child support", Erik White, Dec. 14, 2017

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