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New group helps alienated grandparents

The group meets once a month over Zoom.

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Linda (who wishes to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns) hasn’t seen her grandchildren in more than 15 years, and not by choice.

“It is such a taboo topic. When you go to discuss it with friends and family, there's only so much they want to hear, and then they're tired of it,” she said.

After years of emotional struggle Linda, through an Internet search, found Alienated Grandparents Anonymous (AGA) and decided to start a chapter in St. Albert — the first support group of its kind in Alberta.

Grandparent alienation occurs when a grandparent is barred by the parents from seeing their grandchildren. Legally, if it is the grandparents’ child who is barring access to grandchildren, there is not much a grandparent can legally do.

Linda said AGA offered her support and introduced her to resources that helped her understand her situation.

“It hasn't helped me in the sense that it has changed anything for me. What I learned was how many things I did wrong,” she said.

Linda said through her experience she will be able to offer advice for others.

“I can really tell people when they come on board, ‘Oh, I know it all. I've done it all. I've been there done that. It doesn't work. I can tell you pitfalls. I can also tell you things that will help you,’” Linda explained.

Linda said there are a few books she can recommend to people, along with ways to try and re-establish relationships.

“The best way to try to re-establish a relationship is to try to bridge that gap between you and the parent. Those are the kinds of things we work on and talk about. Hopefully, something clicks and works, and something gets resolved,” she said.

Realistically, Linda said, a lot of parents don’t want to go to counselling or deal with anything that will re-establish a relationship between them and the grandparent.

“It's learning and growing through support and learning. That's not as easy as you would hope it would be. Sometimes you lose hope. Sometimes you can instill hope back into somebody. There are things you can do that will help,” she said.

Tim Verhaeghe, a St. Albert resident and lawyer with Freedom Law, said he refers to it as grandparent access and it isn’t an unusual application made in court.

“It typically occurs when there was some access from grandparents and grandchildren. And then, for whatever reason, that access has been cut off,” he said.

Under the Family Law Act of Alberta, grandparents whose access is disrupted by death or separation can make a claim in court to see their grandchildren.

Verhaeghe said when makes those claims in court, he typically asks for one day a month.

“Typically, it's six hours a month. It might be a Saturday afternoon, from 12 until six, or a Sunday afternoon … It just can't be disruptive to the family,” he said.

However, if the biological child is the one refusing access to the grandparents, it is a lot more difficult for grandparents to make a claim.

Verhaeghe said he has been successful in getting grandparents access in those circumstances, but it is more difficult and there is an additional step.

“If a grandparent’s access was not disrupted by death or separation, they have to seek 'leave' of the court to make a grandparent access claim. 

“In other words, prior to filing the application for grandparent access, they would have to first apply to the court for permission to make the said claim if their son or daughter chooses for the child not to have a relationship with their grandparents,” he wrote in an email.

Linda said she hasn’t gone through the court to see her grandchildren; she worries about being tossed back and forth through the system and about how much money going through the courts would cost her.

“It's emotionally draining for the grandparent, and financially, a lot of grandparents are not wealthy. When you start getting into the court system, you better have a lot of money if you want to see it through and the outcome is not always good,” she said.

Linda said she feels judgment from society and there is a lot of silence for estranged grandparents.

“It’s not normal to not have your grandchildren in your life. It's not normal to have your children hate you. Or cut you off.”

She said it’s like grieving an alive death and there is no closure.

“You wonder about your grandchildren. You wonder, 'How are they? Are they being taken care of? Are their emotional needs being met?' You wonder, 'Are they hurting, too?'”

The support group meets over Zoom the second Tuesday of each month. Email [email protected] to sign up.

About the Author: Jessica Nelson Local Journalism Initiative

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