Family law dispute prevents grandparents from discussing religion

In an unusual recent family law decision, a pair of grandparents has been prohibited from speaking about their faith in front of their young granddaughter. The couple had been requesting unsupervised access to their granddaughter through the courts, but they were denied that privilege because they continued to take the child to religious services for the Jehovah’s Witnesses against her mother’s wishes. The dispute resulted in a 12-page decision from the British Columbia courts, and now the girl’s parental grandparents find themselves with severely restricted access to the child.

In this case, the girl’s father had been expelled from his faith (known as being “disfellowshipped”) because he admitted to fathering another child just weeks after his daughter was born. Now, the man has little to no contact with his daughter and has admitted to not paying child support. His parents, however, were determined to maintain contact with the child, so they sought grandparents’ rights protection. For a while, the relationship between mom and grandparents was strained, but manageable. However, the mother began to demand supervised visits in her home after repeated requests to stop taking the child to religious services were blatantly ignored by the older relatives.

Family law provisions provide certain specific rights to sole guardians and parents. The mother in this case is the child’s sole guardian, so she is vested with the right to make decisions about her daughter’s religious upbringing — no one else gets to interfere. Even grandparents’ rights cannot trump those privileges.

Previous decisions in Canada have set a precedent for this type of ruling. However, when it comes to religious upbringing differences between parents or guardians, courts will often advocate for exposing the child to both religious traditions rather than limiting contact. This is a useful philosophy when it comes to divorced parents who share access, for instance — but not for grandparents who are not custodial relatives. This was a major win for a mother who was fighting for the right to raise her child according to her own value system without others’ interference.

Source: CBC News, “Jehovah’s Witness grandparents ordered to keep faith to themselves,” Jason Proctor, Oct. 21, 2015

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