While the primary responsibility for raising children lies with parents, grandparents often play a vital role in their lives, providing love, support, and stability. The bond between a grandparent and a grandchild can be a unique and irreplaceable relationship. This relationship is generally facilitated and fostered between parents and grandparents. However, when circumstances change, this love can be clouded when a grandparent questions their legal standing in their grandchild’s life. Although the law does not explicitly grant automatic rights for grandparents in Alberta, there are legal frameworks in place that can influence their access to their grandchildren. 

This blog post will explore the legal frameworks surrounding grandparent contact with a grandchild and outline the factors a court will consider before issuing a Contact Order.

Understanding the Legislative Landscape

In Alberta, two key pieces of legislation—the Alberta Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act—are involved when discussing grandparent rights following a relationship’s dissolution.

Family Law Act

The Provincial Family Law Act applies to unmarried parents or common-law couples who separate and prioritize the child’s best interests when determining access arrangements. Grandparents can apply to a court for visitation rights under specific circumstances. Section 35(5) of the Family Law Act outlines the test for granting a Contact Order, which provides that:

Before the court makes a contact order, the court shall satisfy itself that contact between the child and the person for whom contact with the child is proposed is in the best interests of the child, including whether

(a)  the child’s physical, psychological or emotional health may be 

jeopardized if contact between the child and the person for whom contact with the child is proposed is denied, and

(b)  the guardians’ denial of contact between the child and the person for 

whom contact with the child is proposed is unreasonable.

Divorce Act

The Federal Divorce Act applies to married or common-law couples who have gone through a formal divorce. Like the Family Law Act, it prioritizes the child’s best interests when determining parenting and access arrangements. Grandparents may apply to the court for visitation rights. However, the process may be more complex.

Grandparents May Apply for a Court Order

While Alberta does not grant automatic visitation or access rights to grandparents, they may apply for a court order (referred to as a “Contact Order”) allowing them to continue to foster their relationship with their grandchild in certain situations. A Contact Order is a legally enforceable order that sets out the terms and access between the parties. However, a court will only issue a Contact Order when it is in the child’s best interests to do so. 

In most cases, a grandparent must seek the court’s permission to proceed before obtaining a Contact Order. They will also be required to notify the grandchild’s parents or guardians of their court application. This is when the court will review the best interest of the child.

Considerations for Courts Before Granting an Order

A court will consider several factors in light of the circumstances, which may include:

  • The Best Interests of the Child: This is the paramount concern for any parenting or access arrangement, as the court will evaluate the potential benefit of a relationship with the grandparent versus any potential harm it might pose to the child’s well-being. Factors like the child’s age, wishes (if mature enough), emotional needs, and existing relationship with the grandparent can be considered.
  • The Status Quo and History of the Relationship Between the Grandparent and the Grandchild: The court will look at the pre-existing relationship between the grandparent and grandchild. A strong, longstanding bond is more likely to be seen as beneficial for the child and can lend itself to building a strong case for the grandparent’s visitation rights. A court may also consider the proximity of the grandparent to the child’s primary residence.
  • The Reason for Seeking Visitation: The motivation behind the grandparent’s request for visitation with the grandchild will also be assessed by the court in an effort to determine whether they are seeking to maintain a positive relationship or potentially act against the wishes of a fit parent.
  • The Wishes of the Parents: While not the sole determining factor, the court will consider the wishes of the parents unless there’s evidence that the parent’s reasons for denying access are not in the child’s best interests.
  • The Conduct of the Grandparent Towards Other Parties: The court will assess the grandparent’s behaviour towards the grandchild and the parents. A history of abusive or harmful conduct could significantly impact their chances of securing visitation rights.

Final Thoughts on Grandparents’ Rights in Alberta After a Separation or Divorce

In Alberta, understanding and navigating the complexities of grandparents’ rights can be complex and overwhelming. While Alberta’s legal landscape does not grant automatic contact and visitation rights between grandparents and grandchildren upon the child’s parents’ dissolution, but it acknowledges the importance of the unique bonds between generations. To help grandparents maintain positive relationships with their grandchildren, the legislation outlines various frameworks under which grandparents may obtain a court order allowing them to continue to foster this bond. 

By working with an experienced family lawyer, grandparents can learn about the legal options available to them. If denied access to their grandchild, they can build a strong case to support their application for a contact order.

Contact the Lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates for Legal Advice on Grandparent Rights in Family Law Matters

The skilled family lawyers at Getz Collins and Associates frequently advise grandparents on their rights and ways to maintain their relationship with their grandchild during and after a separation or divorce. Our family law team offers comprehensive family law services to help clients effectively and proactively address and resolve various issues. 

From our offices in Calgary and Strathmore, Getz Collins and Associates represents clients in Airdrie, Cochrane, Okotoks, Drumheller, Chestermere, Hussar, and across Alberta. To learn more about your legal rights as a grandparent, contact us online or at (587) 391-5600.