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Can Grandparents be Sued for Child Support?

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Can Grandparents be Sued for Child Support?

As was reported in the news media recently, two Ontario grandparents have been sued for child support for their granddaughter.

Their upcoming court hearing will determine whether they are obliged to pay $760 a month to the mother of their 10-year-old granddaughter, as well as $47,000 that has accrued since 2013 when their son (who is the father of the girl), died in an accident.

The grandparents resist the mother’s claim for child support, pointing out that – while they may love and care for her as grandparents do – they have no legal obligation to financially support the young girl.

The case is unusual from a legal standpoint, because the grandparents in that case do not have custody of the child, nor do they even live with her. (They do enjoy access time with her every other weekend; the mother will be asking the court to suspend this access if they do not pay the support requested).

In the few previous Canadian cases where support obligations have been imposed on grandparents, there are extenuating circumstances that make the outcome much more understandable and arguably reasonable.

For example, in an Alberta case called Snow v. Snow, the grandparents had taken in their granddaughter when she was 6 years old, after their daughter moved to California and left the girl with them.  When the grandparents separated from each other a few years later, the girl remained with the grandmother who applied for child support from the grandfather.  She claimed he was “in loco parentis”, which is the legal terms that means “standing in the place of a parent”.  The grandfather, in turn, applied for support contributions from the biological parents.

The court ultimately found that the grandfather was indeed in loco parentis:  he had assumed a parental relationship with the child for over 10 years, and had acknowledged treating her like his own daughter.

He was ordered to pay retroactive support of almost $40,000, but was not obliged to pay ongoing child support.    (And for the record, the biological parents of the girl were also ordered to pay both ongoing and retroactive support, with all payments being made directly to the grandmother, who still had custody of the child).

In the Snow case, the grandparents’ obligation to pay child support was driven by the fact that the court found them to be legally standing in the shoes of the child’s parents.  Returning to the Ontario case that is about to be heard, the situation appears to be somewhat different: The child is in the custody of and is being cared for by her biological mother, who is essentially seeking to have the grandparents ordered to make a financial contribution to the cost of the child’s care.

I will be curious to see the outcome of the Ontario case. What are your thoughts?  Should grandparents be forced to pay child support in this kind of circumstance?

For the full text of the decision, see:

Snow v. Snow

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com