Grandparents Rights – As a Grandparent Do I have Rights?

As a grandparent, do I have rights?

Top 5 questions about grandparents’ rights in general

I am a grandparent and I love my grandchildren very dearly, but I am being refused permission to see and spend time with them. Is there anything I can do?

At times there are valid grounds for prohibiting grandparents from seeing their grandchildren. Generally, though, access is denied because of a family dispute or because separation, divorce, or remarriage has driven a wedge between the generations. Alberta’s Family Law Act outlines possible options for grandparents when guardians (typically parents) and grandparents cannot agree on provisions for contact. This legislation allows grandparents to apply to the court for a contact order in such cases. In certain circumstances you can also apply to have care (known as “Kinship Care”) or “guardianship” of your grandchildren (see Sections 4 and 5 of this

Alberta’s Family Law Act outlines possible options for grandparents when guardians (typically parents) and grandparents cannot agree on provisions for contact.

Do I have a “right” to see, or take care of, my grandchild(ren)?

No.

Nothing in the Alberta Family Law Act specifically gives or protects grandparents’ rights of access to their grandchildren. The law does not assume that children have a right to a relationship with the grandparents. Nor does it assume that a grandparent has a “right” to a relationship with a grandchild. The Family Law Act puts the onus on grandparents to bring a court application in order to be granted contact. In some circumstances, however, grandparents have to undergo one less court process than other people seeking contact. When deciding whether or not to grant contact, the court looks at:

  • whether it will be good for the child to have a relationship with the person;
  • whether the child knows the person already; and
  • the child’s overall best interests.

The person requesting contact must show the judge that the child will benefit from time spent with that person.

Do I have to take the parents to court in order to see or take care of my grandchild(ren)?

Maybe.

Contact can be a difficult issue, but people can and do agree on contact arrangements among themselves, without a court battle. This is often the best way to make these kinds of decisions. Jointly reaching a schedule that everyone can commit to and follow is arguably the best solution for everyone. It is certainly better for the child to see cooperation and compromise among the parties. Whatever arrangements are made should be put into a written form that the parties sign, have witnessed and enter into court (a “consent order”).

If you need help getting an agreement, you can contact a lawyer or a mediator. Services such as the Alberta Courts’ Family Mediation Services or private mediators or lawyers, may be able to help in this regard. The assistance of a mediator can be invaluable in helping to create the best possible situation for you and your grandchild(ren). For more information on how to do that, please see the “Where do I get more help?” section at the end of this booklet. When the parties cannot agree, you may have to ask a judge to make a court order. However, going to court is often a last resort. Working with a mediator or lawyer is preferable since this approach is more likely to keep conflict to a minimum and support long-term relationships between all parties involved. Also, keep in mind that what the judge orders in court may not be what you would prefer.

How can I avoid going to court?

If you are concerned that you might lose access to your grandchildren, get to work immediately. There are many steps you can take without setting foot in a courtroom.

  • If you have a good relationship with your child and his or her spouse, continue to build on that. Give advice only if it’s asked for, and don’t get embroiled in arguments.
  • If there is a separation or divorce, don’t take sides, and don’t criticize the parents, especially in front of the children.
  • If you suspect things are going wrong, contact one of the many support groups available in Canada. See the list in the Resources Section of this booklet (community).
  • If you become estranged from the parents of your grandchildren, keep a record of telephone calls, visits, and what was said and done. Note if there are problems such as parents’ abuse of drugs or alcohol. Number the pages and write on one side only. This document will be extremely important in the event of a court case or mediation. As well, it might save you time and money. • Try to rebuild your relationship(s) with the estranged parent(s), even if you feel you weren’t in the wrong.
  • If attempts at rebuilding do not work, consider hiring a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, inquire about Legal Aid. As a first step, consider hiring a neutral, trained psychologist or child care worker who is willing to hear all sides.

If attempts at mediation fail, you have a choice to make. You can enter into a court battle or wait until the children get older and can decide for themselves. If you decide to wait, continue to do things for your grandchildren. For example: send cards and gifts, call on birthdays and holidays, and/or set up a trust fund.

I think my grandchild is being neglected, and maybe even abused, what can I do?

If you have reason to believe that one or more of your grandchildren are being neglected and/or abused, contact the Alberta Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-387-KIDS (5437). You may also wish to consider seeking the care of your grandchildren, as described in Sections 4 and 5 of this booklet.

If you have reason to believe that one or more of your grandchildren are being neglected and/or abused, contact the Alberta Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-387-KIDS (5437).

You should NOT rely on this webpage for legal advice. It provides general information on Alberta law only. June 2010.
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