Like most grandparents, Marilyn Marks spoils her granddaughter on every occasion.
She sends cards and gifts on every birthday, Christmas and holiday.
What makes the Calgary senior different from most is that she buys duplicates of each item to store in a chest.
That way, if the gifts she’s been sending for the last 16 years don’t reach her granddaughter, she’ll have proof she was always in her heart.
The last time Marks saw her granddaughter she was just a baby.
“I had nine months with her. I could tell as that relationship was forming that something was very tense between my daughter and myself. I had no idea it would end like this,” Marks recalls. “Every family situation is different – in my case there was a broken marriage – there was alcoholism involved, parental alienation.”
When Marks’ estranged daughter cut off contact, the grandmother went to court to fight for access. She found the system to be confusing, expensive and divisive.
“It’s virtually impossible for grandparents to go through the court system. It’s very adversarial. They have to get applications for access and a leave order as well to serve on their children which sets up the whole adversarial system from the start,” she says.
Marks set up the Alberta Grandparents Association in an effort to channel her grief. It’s a research and advocacy group for people in her position. The grandmother is pushing the Alberta government to make the system easier to navigate and less confrontational for grandparents. She would like to see the Alberta Family Law Act tweaked to require mandatory mediation, where grandparents have standing.
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She most recently met with the co-convenor of Reforming the Family Justice System Initiative and a senior manager from Resolution and Court Administration Services.
Alberta’s Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley says she’s open to feedback to improve the system.
“Currently, certainly we’re looking at a number of things with respect to the Family Law Act but we’re not considering a wholesale review right now,” she says.
Until she sees changes, Marilyn Marks is keeping track of her lobbying efforts in the same chest where she stores her granddaughter’s gifts.
“I’m doing this work for her and I’m doing it for all the other Alberta grandparents who are in deep grief and don’t know where to turn.”