Grandparents’ visitation and custody rights are one of the largest areas which is growing and changing in North Carolina and across the country. We view it as a positive, progressive step to have laws which protect grandparents’ visitation rights. A grandparent can be a lifeline for a child; another vital pillar of support. In North Carolina, a grandparent may seek an award of visitation of a grandchild if there is an ongoing custody matter between the parents of the child and there is a substantial relationship between the grandparent and the grandchild. More specifically, grandparents may commonly intervene in the following scenarios:
1. Grandparents May Intervene in a Pending Custody Action
Grandparents may seek an order of visitation when parents are divorcing or involved in custody litigation. The General Statutes of North Carolina allow grandparents to intervene in custody matters as third parties to request visitation with the grandchild upon a showing of “substantial relationship” with the grandchild or grandchildren. The grandparent and his or her attorney must file a motion to intervene and a pleading setting forth the claim or defense for which intervention is sought, meaning that the grandparent has to also file a motion for visitation.
2. Grandparents May Seek a Modification of a Court’s Order of Custody
If a court has entered a custody order, and the grandparent is a party to the action in that the grandparent intervened in the original custody action, the grandparent can seek a modification of custody and visitation by filing a motion to modify custody and visitation. To prevail, the grandparent must show that there has been a substantial change of circumstances which have occurred since the entry of the last custody/visitation order which has negatively or positively affected the welfare of the grandchild or grandchildren. Next, in order to be awarded the change requested by the grandparent, the grandparent must show that such change is in the best interest of the grandchild. For example, a grandparent might seek greater visitation rights and tell the court that it is in the best interest of the child because the parent is unavailable.
3. Custody of Grandchildren
It is not uncommon that grandparents find themselves in situations where they have taken on parental responsibilities for their grandchildren when parents are unfit or unable to provide care. When parents are unfit or unable to care for their children or act in a manner inconsistent with their constitutionally protected rights as parents, grandparents may be able to initiate a custody action. Factors that may substantiate parental unfitness include abandonment, substance abuse, mental illness, and instability, placing children in dangerous situations, and being financially unable to provide care.
4. Visitation When a Grandchild Has Been Adopted
If a child is adopted by a stepparent or other relative, grandparents may seek a court order for visitation with their grandchildren after the adoption. Grandparents must show they have a “substantial relationship” with the child. Grandparents are not be entitled to pursue visitation with grandchildren adopted by parties who are unrelated, as when children are placed for adoption by their parents or through foster care.
Pursuing visitation or custody as a grandparent can be emotionally and legally complex. The guidance of an experienced family law attorney is particularly valuable in helping you understand your rights and the legal remedies that may be available to you. We can help you make informed decisions about these delicate matters.
Grandparents’ rights are in no way automatic in North Carolina. If you are considering seeking visitation with or custody rights over your grandchildren, you should speak with a lawyer knowledgeable and experienced in custody matters. Daphne Edwards and her family law team can help you navigate every kind of family law issue, including grandparents’ rights. She provides comprehensive and individualized guidance to families throughout Wake County and surrounding counties. Contact Daphne Edwards Divorce & Family Law at (919) 838-7160 for a consultation or use our live chat service to begin.