The Essential Guide to Grandparents' Rights in Alberta
By Camille Boyer, Alberta Family Lawyer
A grandparent’s love is like no other, a unique and irreplaceable bond in a child's life. But what happens when circumstances change, and grandparents find themselves questioning their legal standing in their grandchildren's lives? While the law doesn't automatically grant grandparents visitation rights in Alberta, it does recognize the importance of such relationships for the well-being of the child. In the following blog, we will explore the legal frameworks in Alberta that can influence grandparents' access to their grandchildren, discuss practical steps to strengthen their case for visitation rights, and how specialized legal guidance can make a significant difference in navigating these sensitive matters.
The Role of the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act
In Alberta, two key laws come into play when talking about grandparents and their access to grandchildren: the Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act. Both Acts focus primarily on the best interests of the child when deciding who gets to spend time with them.
Grandparents can seek visitation rights under specific circumstances, such as when their relationship with the grandchild has been disrupted due to a family breakdown or if it's in the child's best interests to maintain a connection with them.
How to Ensure Grandparents Can See Their Grandchildren
Navigating the legal intricacies of grandparent rights can seem daunting, but there are practical steps that can be taken to strengthen their case for visitation, such as:
- Maintaining a positive relationship - the foundation of any grandparent-grandchild relationship is love and trust. Courts will consider the quality of the existing relationship, so maintaining a positive connection with your grandchildren is important to establish.
- Open communication - a key step is to communicate openly with the parents. Express your desire to be a part of your grandchildren's lives and try to find an amicable solution. Showing a willingness to cooperate can go a long way.
- Mediation - if direct communication doesn't yield positive results, consider mediation. In mediation, a neutral third party helps to facilitate discussions and assist in finding a resolution that benefits everyone involved.
- Document your relationship - keep a record of your involvement in your grandchildren's lives. This can include photographs, letters, or any other evidence showcasing the positive impact you've had on their well-being.
- Focus on the best interests of the child - courts in Alberta prioritize the best interests of the child when making decisions. Ensure that your case reflects how your involvement contributes positively to your grandchildren's well-being.
- Understanding the legal process - if all else fails, it may be necessary to seek legal advice to understand the legal process and your rights. Consult with a family lawyer who specializes in grandparents' rights and who can help you navigate the legal landscape effectively.
- Be patient - legal processes can take time. Be patient and persistent in pursuing your right to see your grandchildren. A calm and composed approach will work in your favour.
As mentioned earlier, grandparents do not really have “rights” per se. Instead, a better way to conceptualize the issue is that grandchildren have rights. Those rights are set out in legislation, which governs what will happen when a grandparent wants access to their grandchild.
The first step for grandparents initiating an access application is usually to seek 'leave' or permission from the court to proceed with the application. In certain cases, leave may not be required.
The purpose of requiring leave is to prevent the court from becoming an easy avenue for challenging the decisions made by the children's parents. Parties with guardianship (i.e. the right to make decisions about children) will generally be given great, if not near-absolute, deference when making decisions about their children. This makes sense, as many parents would agree it is their responsibly, not the government or courts, to decide what is in their child’s best interests.
The court will intervene upon those rights when parents are causing harm to their children, such as when Children’s Services investigate a home and decide to apprehend a child. The threshold is rather high for the court to become involved in this manner.
Similarly, and unless there is a compelling reason to do so, the court is unlikely to even grant leave for a grandparent’s access application - particularly if the parents have not separated. If parents of a child decide not to involve the grandparents for whatever reason, the court will generally honour that decision, unless there is some significant risk or harm to the children as a result. However, if a child previously enjoyed a close relationship with their grandparents, and that relationship has been severed as a result of the parents’ separation, the court may be more willing to entertain an application for contact between the child and their grandparents.
In Alberta, understanding and effectively navigating the complexities of grandparents' rights requires not only emotional intelligence but also a solid grasp of legal principles. While Alberta's legal landscape doesn't automatically grant visitation rights to grandparents, it does acknowledge the importance of the unique bonds formed between generations. These relationships contribute significantly to a child's emotional well-being, and they serve as a bridge between past and future. By maintaining positive connections with your grandchildren, facilitating open communication with the parents, and taking advantage of mediation opportunities, you can strengthen your case for being granted visitation rights. Keeping meticulous documentation and seeking specialized legal advice can further bolster your position.
Whether you're a grandparent yearning to be a constant presence in your grandchild's life or simply seeking clarity on how to navigate a challenging family dynamic, the support of a legal expert is invaluable. This is where Crossroads Law can make a difference. Our team is well-versed in the nuanced area of grandparents' rights under Alberta's Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act. We stand ready to guide you through every aspect of the legal process, ensuring you are well-prepared to make your case. Don't leave these matters to chance. Schedule your free 20-minute consultation with a Crossroads Law family lawyer today and take the first step towards securing a lifelong relationship with your grandchildren.