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Grandparents' rights law may encourage litigation

Changes to Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act may have little impact other than to encourage grandparents to litigate custody and access cases, says Ottawa family lawyer and civil litigator Timothy Sullivan.

Amendments to the Act now specifically cite the rights of grandparents to apply to a court for custody and access — a right they always had, says Sullivan, principal of SullivanLaw.

“I don’t think the revisions are very significant,” Sullivan tells “I’m not sure they change anything. There is no new right, and no new procedure authorized that wasn’t there before. It may actually embolden grandparents to take up the charge of litigation based on this new citation.”

The bill recently received royal assent after being reintroduced by NDP MPP Michael Mantha, the Toronto Star reports. According to the article, Mantha brought the bill forward following a discussion within his own family.

“Advocacy groups estimate about 75,000 grandparents in Ontario have been estranged from their grandchildren and have been pushing for improvements to the laws for more than a decade,” the article says.

Although the law brings Ontario in line with other provinces, Sullivan says he questions the move.

“Grandparents always had a right to challenge any kind of custody arrangement, and they still have to meet the same requirements as any other person pursuing such a right. It must be in the best interest of the children,” he says.

“I think it’s unfortunate if it does embolden more litigation because this is an area of law that is crying out for less expensive and less adversarial conduct.”

Sullivan says some grandparents are denied access to their grandchildren after the breakdown of relationships between parents or because of a death.

“Grandparents may be left out of the grandchild’s life and it is unfortunate, but family dynamics are complicated and to institute a legal procedure to adjudicate those loving, kind and playful relationships between a grandparent and grandchild defeats the purpose,” he says.

“When you sue somebody they are not going to like it,” he adds. “It creates a level of animosity that under most circumstances should be avoided.”

Sullivan refers to a recent case in which grandparents sought access to a toddler after a mother cut off ties. The grandparents in Nichols v. Herdman, 2015 Carswell Ont 9262 (Ont. S.C.J.) were not ultimately granted access — an outcome that likely would not have been different under the revised legislation, Sullivan says. 

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