Grandparents may be governed by Family Law Act

On behalf of Peterson Stark Scott posted in Family Law on October 29, 2015.

In many cases there are multiple people who help in raising children. In addition to parents, grandparents can play an important role. This is true regardless of the form the family unit takes. As is the case where parents are concerned, certain aspects of a child’s relationship with his or her grandparents could be governed by the Family Law Act. A case recently decided by a B.C. provincial court judge, illustrates this.

In this case, the paternal grandparents of a child, lost unsupervised contact (access) with and to their grandchild because they would not follow the clearly stated wishes of the girl’s mother. The mother of the girl, who is not married to the girl’s father, and has sole guardianship, objected to the grandparents taking the four year old to their worship services. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The girl’s father is not a guardian, has no parental responsibilities and does not pay child support. He also does not have much contact with his parents. He was “disfellowshipped” from the faith. Despite this, prior to the recent court ruling, the girl’s mother allowed unsupervised visits between her daughter and paternal grandparents.

The matter made its way to court after several attempts by the mother to limit her daughter’s exposure to the religion. In addition to taking the girl to services, the grandparents also showed their granddaughter a video about the faith on their laptop. The grandparents claimed that not being allowed to share their faith with their granddaughter was a violation of their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court found that under the Family Law Act however, as the girl’s guardian, her mother is the only person who has parental responsibilities. These responsibilities include making decisions about how a child should be raised in a religious context.  The court also found that the grandparent’s freedom of religion rights under the Charter had not been violated.

The outcome of this case might have been different if the child’s father was involved in her life and was still a Jehovah’s Witness. Some previous cases ruled that when parents who share parental responsibility have different views when it comes to religion, the child should be exposed to both.

As this case illustrates the specific facts to a case are important when it comes to how a family law matter will be decided. A lawyer can help make sure the relevant facts are clear to the court, mediator or arbitrator.

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