New custody rights for grandparents in Nova Scotia go into effect Monday.

For years, grandparents in this province have argued they've unfairly been shut out of many custody cases.

The changes are to the Maintenance and Custody Act. Before, grandparents seeking access had to ask the court's permission for standing before they could proceed to a hearing regarding access to grandchildren.

Now, grandparents will no longer have to apply for standing. It mostly affects situations where parents divorce or separate and one parent blocks access to the grandparents.

'Sunny day' for grandparents and children

Pauline Glenn has been fighting for this day for fourteen years with the advocacy group Grandparents Rights for Nova Scotia.

“It’s a cloudy and rainy day, but for grandparents and grandchildren in Nova Scotia, it’s a sunny day,” she said Monday morning on CBC Radio's Information Morning.

When she introduced the changes earlier this year, Justice Minister Lena Diab said the amendments to the Maintenance and Custody Act would remove this step so courts would proceed directly to considering requests from grandparents for contact. 

'I can't even give him a hug. It's not fair that the parents can do that to their children.' - Carolina Leone

“We have a voice now,” Glenn said. “The courts will look at us more positively, because we have rights.”

It could save time and legal fees, too. She hopes the next step will be to expand the conciliation processes to include grandparents. Glenn said often one parent disagrees to conciliation, meaning grandparents have to go to court.

Glenn said the new rules will become clearer as cases move through the courts.

“It seems like it’s in the closet. I’ve had hundreds of grandparents from all parts of Nova Scotia calling me, very upset because they can’t see their grandchildren. It’s not isolated cases; it’s very common,” she said.

Children pay the price

She said it’s usually a broken relationship between the parents, and that grandchildren and grandparents suffer.

“It has nothing to do with the grandparents and grandchildren. It’s bitterness in the home, and then the children are used as weapons,” she said.

Glenn compares losing access to grandchildren to experiencing a death in the family.

She believes she is paving a path for future grandparents who might find themselves fighting for visitation rights.

Suddenly cut off

The new rules could help Carolina Leone, a grandmother who lives in Tatamagouche. She was close with her grandson until a dispute with her daughter-in-law.

Now she says her visits have been blocked with the 11-year-old boy, who is severely handicapped and in hospital.

“It’s very difficult. I can’t see him. I can’t even wish him a happy birthday. I haven’t seen him for over two years,” she said.

She went to court twice, but couldn’t gain access. She had spent a lot of time with him from birth, but was abruptly cut out.

“We [used to] sing together, we dance together, we read together, I took him for strolls,” she said. “Now I can’t even see him. I can’t even give him a hug. It’s not fair that the parents do that to their children.”

Glenn hopes the new legislation will help grandparents like Leone. Her group plans to monitor the new rules and decide if they need to further campaign for grandparents’ rights.