There are a number of circumstances where grandparents are involved in custody and access issues. Those circumstances can include when the natural parents are themselves unable to care for the children, or when the relationship between the grandparents and parents affects access to the grandchildren.
If the parents are unable to care for their children, they may call upon the grandparents to provide care and support. This may be for a limited time until the conditions interfering with parental care are addressed, or it may be for an extended period of time. In some situations, a parent may seek the return of their children, yet the grandparents may be concerned about the ability of the parent to meet the children’s needs.
In other circumstances, a child welfare agency may initiate proceedings to protect the children from parents whose care is of concern. In these situations, these agencies are required to first seek kin arrangements for the care of the children. As such, grandparents in these situations may be called upon to provide care on an interim or long-term basis.
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In yet other situations, the parents may have a reasonable relationship between themselves, yet seek to withhold access of the children from the grandparents. These situations can come about for various reasons including a son or daughter-in-law who has some issue with the grandparents or the parent natural to the grandparents who has their own issues with them.
All-in-all, these tend to involve complex family issues and relationships, often with intense emotions and hurt feelings. There may also be concern for issues of abuse, drugs, alcohol or mental health of a kind or intensity that interferes with self or child management.
Because of the complex nature of these issues, people are cautioned about entering into care arrangements without the support of a social worker and family lawyer. The social worker can help sort out the issues, who needs to be involved in making arrangements, and reporting obligations if child protection issues are involved. The lawyer can help with negotiations and contracting of final agreements.
If a grandparent believes access is being unreasonably withheld by the child’s parent(s), the grandparents in Ontario can now initiate a court action to gain access. However, in so doing, the grandparents must be aware that in commencing a court action, it may bring more harm to an already problematic relationship with their own child. Rather than rushing to a Court action, grandparents are advised to certainly know their legal rights, but also seek the help of a social worker or mediator to try and resolve the issues leading to access difficulties.
The best way to ensure access more reasonably, sooner and with less expense is for grandparents and parents to address issues of concern.