Tuesday, October 6, 2009
One grandmother denied access to her late son’s children has amassed hundreds of photos to show the court the big role she played in their lives.
October 06, 2009
In the next few weeks, Helena Sheppard will appear before an Ontario family court judge and ask to be granted one wish before she dies – the right to be a grandmother again.
It's a role she revelled in before her son died unexpectedly last year, a loss that was so sudden and shattering she couldn't bring herself to leave home for weeks.
Since then Nana, as she was once lovingly called, has found herself shut out of the lives of her son's two children.
She has been given the cold shoulder at their sporting events, virtually cut out of Christmas and unable to reason with her daughter-in-law at a handful of get-togethers she'd hoped might break the impasse.
Sheppard (not her real name) is battling her second bout of cancer and scared time will run out. She has turned to the courts to intervene, knowing that it's an expensive long shot that could cost her her house.
"I'm not asking the judge for anything more than the same relationship I had before my son's death," she says. That included sleepovers, cookie bakes at Christmas and a schedule of all the children's games.
"I used to stay with them Christmas Eve, but I know that's never going to happen again."
The retired office worker spoke on condition her name and hometown not be identified, for fear of jeopardizing her campaign for more access to her grandchildren. She spends her days researching grandparents' rights on the Internet. She has amassed hundreds of photos to show the court how she has been a big part of her grandchildren's lives from when they were born.
"It's hard to not see the grandkids on top of the pain you carry around from losing your child," she says. "They've already lost their father, now they're going to lose their grandmother, too? By denying them access to me they are losing another loving relationship. And then they will have to deal with yet another death."
Sheppard is by no means the first grandparent to sue in the hope of getting more access to grandchildren in the wake of a child's death or divorce. Among all the heartbreak that plays out daily in Ontario's family courts, "grandparent cases are the saddest," says Toronto lawyer Paul Pellman.
He has seen the issue from both sides during 29 years as a family law lawyer: He and his wife took over raising two grandkids from a daughter who struggled with addictions and mental health issues.
"These are people who have really given their utmost to love and support their family. They are usually very involved people who just want to stay involved."
The disputes can stem from years of bad family dynamics, bitterness over their child's marriage partner, or legitimate concern that the grandparents are unstable, too intrusive or defying the parents' wishes for their own children. In some cases, parents hope to wipe the slate clean and create a new future for their kids by cutting out reminders of the past, Pellman says.
Bancroft grandmother Joanne Hannah, 68, hasn't seen her three grandsons in seven years, since her son and daughter-in-law died under suspicious circumstances. Her son, a respected professional, committed suicide after coming under police investigation in the death of his wife.
Hannah was a big part of the children's lives before the tragedy ripped both families apart. But as the months went on, she says, she was gradually cut out of their lives and so turned to a lawyer for help.
"We spent $30,000 and we got an access order, but it's not worth the paper it's printed on," she says in frustration. The 2003 court order called for monthly four-hour visits and extra time for holidays and birthdays. The guardians obliged for a while, until visits became increasingly strained and then stopped, Hannah says.
The couple refused to discuss their defiance of the court order when contacted by the Star.
"I have pictures and memories of the children which I look at on a regular basis," says Hannah, 68. "I have a book that I write notes to them in. But I just can't afford to go back to a lawyer."
Pellman urges grandparents to try mediation first, with the intervention of family, friends or religious leaders, because litigation can cost $20,000 to $50,000, and the courts aren't always on Grandma's side.
And he warns grandparents that even if they win access, the most they can expect is "a modest relationship" – a few hours a month, maybe an overnight visit and a week of vacation. "They're not going to get invited to bar mitzvahs or baptisms or confirmations."
Joan Louise Brooks has seen ugly court battles start over far less during her 23 years as president of the grandparents' rights group GRAND Society (Grandparents Requesting Access and Dignity). She and Betty Cornelius, founder of the support group Cangrands, have spent years offering advice and pushing for legislative changes to protect grandparents who feel they have become second-class citizens after the divorce, or more often the death, of their child, especially if the bereaved spouse remarries.
Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and B.C. recognize grandparents' rights but don't guarantee them. Two attempts at similar legislation in Ontario have failed. Bill 33, which would amend the Children's Law Reform Act to stress the importance of maintaining relationships with grandparents, passed second reading last year but is expected to die.
In particularly bitter disputes, such as the landmark Chapman v. Chapman and Lusher v. Lusher – both involving domineering grandmothers whose interference in the family was thought to be more hurtful than helpful – courts have sided with the parents.
But in most other cases, courts have taken a "cautious pro-contact approach," looking carefully at the facts of each case and what's in the best interests of the children, says University of Toronto associate law professor Martha Shaffer in her 2004 research paper "To Grandmother's House We Go?"
The area of grandparent access is becoming increasingly challenging for the courts, notes Pellman, as judges struggle with the offspring of certain modern relationships – the children of common-law, same-sex and casual-sex partners.
This year, for instance, Pellman represented a gay man who was the sperm donor for two lesbian friends. He and his partner had weekly access and would often take the child to visit his parents. When the mother eventually tried to cut weekly access, the donor took them to court and won.
"The judge was quite impressed with the grandmother's testimony," Pellman says. "She saw the child as her grandson. Even though her son didn't have intercourse, this was a planned pregnancy and he was a daddy. This is going to become a big issue in the gay community where kids can have, potentially, four sets of grandparents."
While that may concern some, Pellman takes a more hopeful view and sees room in children's lives for a whole bunch of relationships.
"I call it the maximization-of-love philosophy. Why shouldn't children be exposed to the most love possible?"
@The Last Good One at 3:56 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
You are to be congratulated. I had specifically asked my family to not take sides in the dispute with my ex so the children would not have to deal with negative comments when in contact. It is in the children's best interest to maintain contact with their extended family who love them dearly and they can enjoy one another without any anxiety hanging over the relationship.
Submitted by Mike Murphy at 6:25 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
It happens to mothers too
Mothers (if the kids live with their father) also get the short end of the stick. They get lied about by the father and his relatives. They get hung up on if they phone their kids and a grandparent answers it, etc. etc. The best thing to do whether your a mother, father or grandparent being treated this way is to do your best to be in the kids lives even if it's by letter, email or text. Ultimately the kids will come around to see you're not the monster they've made you out to be and you can move forward together.
Submitted by FH at 5:43 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Grand-parents have no rights
People don't have children for other people. It is ultimately the parent's decision as to who the children can and cannot see. I know that there are family members I don't want my children to have access to because of their poor values. The court should not be allowed to meddle in families like this. I'm the parent, I decide.
Submitted by Nick1236 at 5:05 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Grandparents are a vacation from divorce
Most grandparents often have more time to spend with the children than the parents do plus the time with them is a vacation from the separation and divorce stress that mom and dad are likely suffering. Children and grandparents deserve to have designated time scheduled, yet as often happens the paternal grandparents are placed in the same camp as the father, and that can translate into dad having to give up some of his own time with the kids for his parents visits. Either way it ultimately hurts the children. We offer a weekly support group for dads AND grandparents, and women have always been welcome! Wednesday evenings 7-9pm For more information visit: http://tinyurl.com/TorontoMeeting and http://tinyurl.com/HamiltonMeeting
Submitted by Fathers Resources at 4:52 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
can see this from both sides.
Every case is different and must be handled differently. In the case of a divorce, the grandparent will usually take the side of their child in bitter cases. When my parents split, my mother tried to keep an amicable relationship with my grandmother. My grandmother believed many of the lies my father had told her to save face, why should she not, he was her son? After having several things thrown into her face that were blatantly untrue, (like the fact that she was planning to abort my then unborn sister), my mother had to reduce contact. Add to that some differences of opinion regarding religious views, and my mother felt she could not leave me unattended with my father's side of the family for fear of what I would hear.
Submitted by Tupps at 4:32 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
My X does not talk to his OWN parents. They contacted me "asking" if they could see their grandchild, as they hadn't for a year (I didn't know), I booked the very next weekend for them all to get together. I stayed out of it. I let them enjoy their only grandson, alone.I divorced their child, my child did not divorce THEM. Admittedly, my relationship with them was 'nervous' as my X told them lies about me. Now we are one happy family, closer NOW than in the 20 years I was with my X. Love them dearly! X still isn't in the pic and that was 5 years ago!
Submitted by The Last Good One at 3:56 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Grandparents are Parents too!
I am a father of two children I do not see. My parents, aunts, uncles and cousins do not see them either. My side of the family has been cut out of their lives and replaced by the step-fathers family. How fair is that. She had a vendetta against me and therfore used the system to her advantage. The judges only know what they are told. If the lawyers who charge $250 an hour won't champion your cause because they don't believe they will get paid who will? I will. We need to stand up against the system. We need to start a class action law suit against the Canadian Government for discrimination agains non-custodial parents. I LOST MY KIDS and I will never get that time back. I was a good father and husband. I couldn't help she got bored and cheated then took me for everything. The madness has to stop for future fathers of this world. Loving fathers who just want to be a part of their childrens lives. Favorit lawyer line - You'll never get a judge to agree to that..
Submitted by Whatsrightisright at 3:39 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Let parents raise their kids
Unless the parents are harming their children or spreading the message of hate the kids are theirs to raise as they wish. Some children do not want their parents involved with their grandhcildren. This should serve as a warning to parents. Treat your children well when you are raising them or they will not give you access to your grandchildren.
Submitted by GUYYYZ at 2:26 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Where are all of those with the power-judges, advocates, lawyers...
These people have a huge advantage over the average citizen to push the provincial/federal governments to abolish the criminal/family courts and make them a levelled playing field. Children are suffering-people are going broke and for what?-if the other parent is not abusive then joint custody must be the norm. Child support payments come before spousal support-time is something none of us can buy back!
Submitted by Sharna at 12:48 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Let The Kids Speak!!!
I loved my maternal Grandparents so much as a child. I was with them almost everyday for the first 5 years of my life- they lived across the street. My Grandmother was everything to me. After my parents divorced when I was 8, we got to see them only when my father allowed.The COURTS made an Order to allow my father to take us away to England in 1973 with NO provision for any access for my Mother or extended family. We didn't get to say goodbye &they never knew we were leaving.Grandma missed me as much as I missed her and when we re-united after I was 18 I believe she knew in her heart I would come home one day. I was her first grandchild. My younger sisters did not ever return to see her,she is gone now, 34 yrs passed by.We all lost so much. The laws today are basically no better when it comes to Grandparents access, as they were then. Thanks to Susan for this important series of articles.Many children are hurting out there and people need to start listening to their cries.
Submitted by RhondaP. at 12:46 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Broken record says.....every case is different.
My kids' paternal grandmother hangs up on them when they call if they say anything she does not agree with, has sent maybe 5 birthday cards out of over 30 birthdays, and any gifts she did get showed a complete and total lack of effort. I do not understand why the audience in these forums (predominantly) cannot entertain the concept of "each case is different". It is as though you are on a mission without logic. Any kid older than 8 with half a brain and any independence can judge poor adult behaviour, snf logical consequences follow. I invite any of you to take my three kids for a milkshake and decide for yourselves. Listen to them and judge. Watching you all is tragic. I hope someday you see beyond your rage and take some responsibility. This is only to some of you, because.....ta da.....every case is different.
Submitted by Under Attack at 12:24 PM Tuesday, October 06 2009
My own adopted mother had generous access to my child...
and her access was cut off when she repeatedly took my child around family members I found to be dangerous to her emotional/psychological health. She had the audacity to launch a family court case for access when all she needed to do was to respect my wishes as sole custodial parent. The courts need to put a halt to frivolous cases that are based on people being incapable of controlling herself and minding her own business. Now I am in the middle of a cruel, ridiculous court action and my nine year old child's feelings for her grandmother have changed to anger and borderline hatred. I feel for those grandparents that are ignorantly cut out, but for those like my mother I feel nothing but pure contempt. The family court system is messed up enough with divorce and abuse cases-cases like the one in this article are just morally wrong.
Submitted by Sharna at 11:37 AM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Running Across Canada For The Children
Hello Everyone. My name is Dave Nash. On April 25th, 2010, Parental Alienation Awareness Day, I will attempt to break the Guiness World Record for the Fastest Crossing of Canada on Foot (Male). The current record is 72 days, 10 hrs and 23 min. I am attempting to break this World Record to raise awareness about our Country's FAILING and BROKEN, so-called "Family" Justice System, as well as our Governments' UNWILLINGNESS and OUTRIGHT REFUSAL to reform the system for the sake of our children. I am doing this run to help get your support as a Canadian Citizen, for an Equal Shared Parenting Private Members Bill, Bill C-422, that was introduced before Parliament on June 16th, 2009, by MP, Maurice Vellacott of Saskatoon. I ask you, don't our Children deserve the right to have an Equal Relationship with both their Mother and their Father??? Please visit http://www.crosscanadarun4the children.com/ to see how you can help Bill C-422 get passed and made to be the law in this country.
Submitted by 72daysforthekids at 10:22 AM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Fathers Should Hold Priority Though
Indeed, not to minimize how awful it is for grandparents who lose their loved ones, but there are far more fathers who lose their kids due to the Family Law System -- and they are driven into the ground financially as well as emotionally. Grandparents are very important, but fathers should be given more weight than grandparents...but the only ones who "matter" in the Family Law System, are, TA DA -- "single" mothers.
Submitted by Suzanne Carlson at 9:22 AM Tuesday, October 06 2009
Why does A Custodial Parent get so Selfish
In many cases upon family breakdown the male parent gets cut off from their child through a process called Parental Alienation. The custodial parent, female and sometimes male, will tell the children their other parent is unworthy to see them and may in fact harm them. The children wanting to be loyal to their custodial parent go along with it to avoid further trouble. This affects all the target parents extended family including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Fifty percent of their genetic heritage is MIA. Often this alienating parent has a personality disorder which complicates everyone's lives and starts a very expensive and painful process to achieve the equal status that existed before the marriage failed. Judges exacerbate it by awarding physical custody to one gender in over 90% of cases. It is a massive social engineering policy with tragic consequences.
Submitted by Mike Murphy at 8:58 AM Tuesday, October 06 2009
This Should Be Automatic
One day your a loving parent or grandparent and the next day you are discarded and unimportant. The reason is divorce, who is at fault is usually not relevant. To continue a relationship with that child you have to go to court and get a court order. Still, that is not much of a guarantee because there is no enforcement of court orders(unless your paying support/alimony). That's the way it is, one day you're a loving parent or grandparent, the next day you have to fight for your right just to be an occaisonal visitor.
Submitted by Denis Pakkala at 7:54 AM Tuesday, October 06 2009