Can a grandparent be ordered to pay child support?
Families of today are growing increasingly more complex, and grandparents are beginning to play a far more active role in the lives and upbringing of their grandchildren. This ever-changing legal landscape is evidenced by the recent changes to the Children’s Law Reform Act in 2016 that gave grandparents legal standing to apply for custody and access rights to their grandchildren.
While grandparents’ rights to apply for custody and access rights is firmly set in legislation, what is more uncertain is whether grandparents can be ordered to pay child support for their grandchildren. In this post we will discuss the legal grey area of grandparents and child support in light of a current case which could possibly be precedent-setting.
Am I obligated to support my grandkids?
Grandparents can be under an obligation to pay child support where it is found that they are standing in place of a parent, which usually occurs when the grandparents have custody of the child. We discussed the legal principle of standing in place of a parent (in loco parentis) here. If it is found that you have taken on the role of a parent in relation to the child, you could be liable for child support payments.
What is less certain is what happens when grandparents do not have strict legal custody, and still play an active role in their grandchildren’s lives, but not to the point of qualifying as standing in place of a parent. This appears to be the situation that two grandparents find themselves in during the course of a court case scheduled to go to trial in North Bay. If the grandparents are found to have an obligation to pay child support, it could set a legal precedent further expanding the rights and obligations of grandparents in relation to supporting their grandkids.
NOTE: At this time, we only have information from news reports regarding this case. News reports should be read with caution, as they contain limited information and may present one point of view or another.
According to news reports, in the case before the court, the grandparents are being sued by the mother of their grandson for child support, and arrears of support in the amount of $47,000.00, going back to when the father of the child (the grandparents’ son) passed away in a car accident. While the specific details of the case have not been made public at this point, the mother’s lawyer has indicated to the media that he intends to show that the two had been more than just grandparents to the child, and as such should pay child support of $760.00 per month.
A previous court Order was made, including access with the grandparents, in a previous proceeding. According to news reports, the grandparents were parties to that proceeding, but they were not present in court when they were added as parties or when access was ordered.
As the case stands, the mother is seeking to deny the grandparents access unless they start paying child support. As you may know, access and child support are not linked; a parent cannot deny the other parent access due to a failure to pay child support.
The grandparents are seeking court ordered access per the initial court order, and are arguing that no child support should be paid on the basis that they never stood in place of a parent, and only care for the child during their access time.
Important Take-aways from the North Bay Case
This case could set a precedent with lasting implications for grandparents, especially where the parents are separated. This is especially so given the recent changes to the Children’s Law Reform Act, which allows grandparents legal standing in custody/access hearings involving their grandchildren. While this legislation is focused solely on custody/access, grandparents’ increasing legal rights gives rise to the idea that with rights may come obligations. Grandparents should be cautious that depending on the situation, they may end up being financially obligated to support their grandchildren. Lawyers in Ontario will be following this case closely.