There are many resources available for parents who are seeking parenting time with their minor children after a divorce or separation. The legal parents of a child will generally be granted the right to see their child unless a court or another authority has ordered otherwise. However, when it comes to extended members of the family, such as grandparents, things are not always simple, and it can feel isolating for a grandparent who has been effectively cut off from a grandchild by the child’s parent or guardian. Grandparents may wonder if they have any legal recourse or other tools available to them and might be looking to connect with others who have faced a similar challenge to find support and practical resources.
Grandparents in Alberta now have a local resource that can provide emotional and practical support as they seek to manage the feelings associated with grandparent alienation and to learn what options may be available to them to try to change their circumstances. In order to address this, Alberta has recently gotten its first chapter of the Canadian branch of a support group for people facing grandparent alienation. The St. Albert chapter of Alienated Grandparents Anonymous was started recently by a resident named Linda, who spoke with the St. Albert Gazette about her experience and the purpose of the group.
The group is an offshoot of the national Canadian chapter of Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, which also has chapters throughout the United States. In addition to the Alberta chapter, there are local chapters available in Newfoundland, Ontario, and Nova Scotia as well. While the Alberta chapter operates out of St. Albert, a small community just outside of Edmonton, the group meets monthly over videoconference, so members can join from all over the province.
The group’s mission statement is to provide anonymous peer support and information to grandparents who have been cut off from their grandchildren. The group has several goals, which include:
Often, grandparent alienation is related to a personal dispute between the grandparent and the parent of the child. When the parent and grandparent have a strained relationship, the parent may refuse to allow contact between their own child and the grandparent as retaliation, or simply to avoid having to be in contact with the grandparent themselves.
In other cases, the grandparent’s child may have passed away, or may not have parental access to the child themselves for one reason or another. In these cases, the parent who acts as the child’s primary caregiver might not be compelled to encourage or otherwise help to foster an ongoing relationship between their minor child and their former partner’s parent(s), especially in cases where the relationship was or continues to be volatile.
In some cases, a parent may choose to sever the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild if they feel that the grandparent might pose some sort of threat to the child’s safety or overall wellbeing.
In Alberta, grandparents are not automatically entitled to spend time with their grandchildren under the Family Law Act. However, they can obtain a court order that grants contact with their grandchildren.
Grandparents, as well as any other third party who is not a child’s guardian, can petition the court for a Contact Order. A Contact Order, if granted, will set out the terms of the applicant’s contact with the child, and the frequency and form of the contact (i.e., by phone, video calls, email, or through in-person visits).
A Contact Order does not grant the applicant with any additional rights over the child, such as the right to make any decisions pertaining to the child’s education or religious upbringing; it simply provides a means for the applicant to maintain an ongoing relationship with the child.
The reason for the alienation would be a consideration for any court when reviewing an application for a Contact Order, including:
For grandparents facing alienation from their grandchildren, Linda, the creator of the St. Albert AGA Alliance, says it’s often most helpful to work on repairing the relationship between the adults involved. In cases where the relationship cannot be repaired, and the grandparent has exhausted their legal options, it can be very important to have the support of others who have gone through a similar situation, such as Alienated Grandparents Anonymous.
At Mincher Koeman, we practice family law exclusively. Our divorce lawyers have represented clients in all types of parenting and contact matters, ranging from amicable to high conflict. We will provide each client with a full picture of their rights and obligations and provide experienced advocacy in court if necessary.
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