Grandparents & Other Relatives

Law

In addition to parents and guardians, other adults may be an important part of a child’s life. These relatives may:

  • wonder if they have any legal rights and responsibilities toward a child; or
  • want to help the child if there are problems in the home.

See the sections below for information about the legal rights of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives in Alberta.

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: August 2017
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page is for grandparents and other relatives (such as aunts and uncles) who want to know about their legal rights in relation to a child.

In general, the law and processes described on this Information Page are about children and family members who live in Alberta.

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which has information on what the law says in Alberta. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

The first topic is What the words mean. Please read this section even if you think you already know what the words mean. In order to understand the resources on this page, you will need to understand the legal terms.

What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

guardian (of a child)

A person who has the right to make decisions for a child, and the responsibility to care for that child by providing the “necessaries of life,” such as food and shelter. Alberta’s Family Law Act describes the decision-making powers, rights, and responsibilities of the guardians of children. This role is called “guardianship.”

In Alberta, a child is a person under the age of 18, and every child must have at least one guardian. A child may have 2 or more guardians. A person does not have to be a parent to be a guardian, and not all parents are guardians (although most are).

best interests of the child

The factors that parents, guardians, and/or the Court must consider when making decisions about a child. The best interests of the child “test” is made up of many considerations that focus on the well-being of the child.

For example:

  • the physical, psychological, and emotional safety and well-being of the child;
  • the child’s need for stability, taking into consideration the child’s age and stage of development and attachment;
  • the child’s history of care;
  • the child’s cultural and religious background; and
  • the child’s opinion (if the child is mature enough to form an opinion).

jurisdiction

The right or ability of a government or a court to make decisions about things. This term describes either:

  • a particular government’s right, power, or authority to make laws; or
  • a particular court’s authority to deal with an issue.
The laws that may apply to you

As you look into your rights as a grandparent, you may wish to read the laws (also called “statutes” or “acts”) that apply. The laws included on this Information Page are:

Web Family Law Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English

When reading laws, you also need to know about the “regulations” associated with those laws. Each of the links above takes you to a page that lists the laws as well as the regulations that go with them. For more information on laws and regulations, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

If there has been family violence

Has there been any domestic abuse in the family—whether it was toward you, the children, or both? It is very important to recognize and admit this, both to yourself and to any organizations you approach for help. Everyone involved must be kept safe.

Also, family violence is often a critical factor in what happens in family law proceedings.

If you are the victim of domestic violence, there are a few places to start.

  • Be honest and upfront about it. Violence does not go away on its own. See the What is Family Violence? Information Page for more information.
  • Know that it is never your fault, or the fault of the child. The responsibility belongs only to the abuser.
  • There is no single right way to proceed—it will depend on the exact details of your case. Sometimes, mediation and other collaborative processes may not be possible. On the other hand, sometimes going to court may not be the best option. Learn about Family Violence and the Legal Process.
  • There are criminal laws and protective laws that might be able to help.
  • Depending on your location, there may be ways that general family law can help to keep you and the child safer, such as safe transfer and supervised access. For more information about these, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.
  • Abusive situations are complicated. Consider talking to a lawyer (or another person who is helping you with your legal issues) about the best way to proceed. For more information, see the Family Violence: Resources to Help and Working with a Lawyer Information Pages.

How to use this website

Many of the resources on this Information Page have both general family law information as well as how that information applies in situations of family violence. Where appropriate, resources specific to situations of domestic violence are noted with this icon:

Family Violence

 

Be sure to read these resources thoroughly, because it is sometimes difficult to understand what to do in situations of violence without understanding the legal picture in general.

More information

For more information on how domestic violence can affect your family law issues, see the Family Violence and the Legal Process Information Page.

There are both legal and social services that may be able to help you. See the Family Violence: Resources to Help Information Page.

Grandparents: The legal situation in Alberta

Do grandparents have automatic “rights”?

In some jurisdictions, grandparents have an automatic legal “right” see their grandchild. Or, in some jurisdictions the child may have an automatic “right” to see their grandparents. This is not the case in Alberta.

In Alberta, there is no automatic right to see grandchildren. It is generally up to the children’s guardians (usually the parents) to decide whether children will see grandparents or other family members.

What can be done if grandparents are not allowed to see the children?

If guardians and grandparents cannot agree on contact with the grandchildren, grandparents can apply in court for “contact” for with the grandchildren.

Be Aware

The Court will not automatically give grandparents contact with a child. The grandparents must prove that it would be in the child’s “best interests” to have the contact.

For more information about applying for contact, see the Contact under the Family Law Act Information Page.

Before considering court, you can try to come an agreement out of court with the child’s parents/guardians. For more information about these options, see the Alternative Dispute Resolution Information Page.

Is the situation different when grandparents take care of the grandchild?

Sometimes, grandparents help take care of a child. For example: they may take care of the child every day after school until the parent gets home.

Or, grandparents may have full care of a child. For example: they may take care of their grandchild for months or years because the parent is suffering from drug addiction and cannot take care of the child themselves.

In such cases, the grandparents often have to make day-to-day decisions for the child. Despite this fact, the grandparents are not legally responsible for taking care of the child. They have no legal rights in relation to the child. They are not the guardians of the child.

This is an important difference, as not being a guardian means that the grandparents have no right to continue taking care of the child. At any time, the child’s legal guardian can refuse to continue letting the grandparents care for the child. Depending on the situation, that could be harmful for both the child and the grandparents.

As a result, grandparents in this situation may wish to look into the legal options that can give them more rights. The 2 options are:

  • kinship care; and
  • guardianship.

Kinship care

Kinship care is a program of the Alberta government. Through this program, children who have already come into the care of Child and Family Services are placed with extended family members.

The government will not automatically allow grandparents to be kinship caregivers. The grandparents must prove that it would be in the child’s “best interests” to be in their care. For more information about Kinship Care, see the Caring for a Child: Caregivers, Foster Care, & Kinship Care Information Page.

Guardianship

“Guardianship” is the word used in Alberta’s Family Law Act to describe the decision-making powers, rights, and responsibilities that adults have about a child. You do not have to be a parent to be a guardian, and not all parents are guardians.

The Court will not automatically give grandparents guardianship. The grandparents must prove that it would be in the child’s “best interests” for them to have guardianship. For more information about applying for guardianship, see the Becoming the Guardian of a Child Information Page.

More information

For more information about grandparents’ rights and the legal options available to grandparents, see the following resources.

PDF Grandparents' Rights in Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Do I have the right to see my grandchildren?
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Video The Bear's Den - New Video Released about Grandparents Rights
Native Counselling Services of Alberta
English

Web Calgary Lawyers for Grandparents' Rights
Calgary Family Law Associates
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.




PDF Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
Parent Support Services Society of BC
English

Web Alberta Grandparents Association
Alberta Grandparents Association
English

PDF Grandparent-Grandchild Access: A Legal Analysis
Government of Canada
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

For information about what you can do if your grandchild has become involved with Child and Family Services, see the following resources.



The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the book, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family
Sylvie de Toledo
English
Get the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library. This resource is from the United States, but the general information can be helpful for Canadian grandparents as well.
Other relatives: The legal situation in Alberta

Do relatives have automatic “rights”?

In Alberta, there is no automatic right for relatives to see children. It is generally up to the children’s guardians (usually the parents) to decide whether children will see family members.

What can be done if the relatives are not allowed to see the children?

If guardians and relatives cannot agree on contact with the children, relatives can apply in court for “contact” for with the children. However, relatives other than grandparents must first ask for “leave” of the court. This means that they must first have permission from the Court before asking for contact.

For more information about applying for contact, see the Contact under the Family Law Act Information Page.

Before considering court, you can try to come an agreement out of court with the child’s parents/guardians. For more information about these options, see the Alternative Dispute Resolution Information Page.

Is the situation different when family members take care of the child?

Sometimes, family members help take care of a child. For example: they may take care of the child every day after school until the parent gets home.

Or, family members may have full care of a child. For example: they may take care of the child for months or years because the parent is suffering from drug addiction and cannot take care of the child themselves.

In such cases, the caregivers often have to make day-to-day decisions for the child. Despite this fact, the caregivers are not legally responsible for taking care of the child. They have no legal rights in relation to the child. They are not the guardians of the child.

This is an important difference, as not being a guardian means that the caregivers have no right to continue taking care of the child. At any time, the child’s legal guardian can refuse to continue letting the caregivers care for the child. Depending on the situation, that could be harmful for both the child and the caregivers.

As a result, caregivers in this situation may wish to look into the legal options that can give them more rights. The 2 options are:

  • kinship care; and
  • guardianship.

Kinship care

Kinship Care is a program of the Alberta government. Through this program, children who have already come into the care of Child and Family Services are placed with extended family members.

The government will not automatically allow family members to be kinship caregivers. They must prove that it would be in the child’s “best interests” to be in their care. For more information about Kinship Care, see the Caring for a Child: Caregivers, Foster Care, & Kinship Care Information Page.

Guardianship

“Guardianship” is the word used in Alberta’s Family Law Act to describe the decision-making powers, rights, and responsibilities that adults have about a child. You do not have to be a parent to be a guardian, and not all parents are guardians.

The Court will not automatically give family members guardianship. The family members must prove that it would be in the child’s “best interests” for them to have guardianship. For more information about applying for guardianship, see the Becoming the Guardian of a Child Information Page.

Process

There is no specific “process” for grandparents and relatives to follow when they are

  • concerned about a child in their life; or
  • caring for a child in their life.

See the Law tab of this Information Page to learn about family members’ legal rights in relation to a child.

You may also be interested in the following Information Pages.

Last Reviewed: August 2017

Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

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