Grandparents are allowed to seek visitation or custody of a grandchild only in limited situations in North Carolina. This is because the courts are not allowed to infringe on a parent’s constitutionally protected status or allow others to interfere with those parental rights without compelling reasons. In situations where a minor child is residing with both parents, they are considered an “intact family unit”, and grandparents will not have the right to interfere or seek any type of visitation or custody outside of extreme circumstances.
In North Carolina, there are 4 statutes that provide grandparents with standing, or the right to file a lawsuit, to seek custody or visitation of their grandchild. If any of the circumstances below apply you may be entitled to seek visitation or custody as a grandparent.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.2(b1) – If the parents are involved in an active child custody dispute with the court, grandparents may intervene and seek visitation. Any visitation time granted is at the discretion of the judge, if it is determined that the grandparent has a substantial relationship with the grandchild and visitation would be in the child’s best interest. When seeking visitation under this law, time is of the utmost importance, as a grandparent’s request to intervene in the custody case must be filed while the case is pending and ongoing, prior to a custody order being entered.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.5(j) – For any custody action where a prior order has been entered, and there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the last order was entered, a grandparent can request a modification of custody. Under this statute, the party requesting the modification has the burden of showing that the change in circumstances affects the welfare of the child to justify a change of custody.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.1 -This statute allows grandparents or other interested third parties to seek custody of a child and may be awarded legal and/or physical custody of a child in limited situations, upon a judicial determination that the parents have acted inconsistently with their constitutionally protected status as a parent. Behaviors that fall under the category of unfitness can include: abuse or neglect of the child; drug and alcohol abuse by the parents; or anytime the child is put in a dangerous situation by a parent. Behaviors of parents acting inconsistently with their constitutionally protected status can include leaving a child with the grandparent for long periods of time and knowingly allowing a grandparent to act as the child’s sole care provider and/or giving a grandparent or other party guardianship of the child.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.2A. – When a child has been adopted by a stepparent or other relative, the grandparent is allowed to seek visitation if it can be shown that grandparent has a close relationship with the child and visitation would be in the child’s best interest. It is important to note that this statute only applies to children who are adopted by a relative or step-parent. If the adoption occurs by an unrelated third party and the parents’ parental rights are terminated, grandparents would not be entitled to pursue visitation.
If you are a grandparent and have questions about what custody or visitation rights you would be entitled to, the knowledgeable attorneys at Hopper Cummings can explain the law as it applies to your unique situation and provide you with honest advice about your options so you can make informed decisions.
Child custody and visitation matters can be complicated, both emotionally and legally. At Hopper Cummings, our family law attorneys have helped both grandparents and parents who have concerns about protecting their rights deal with the emotionally challenging issues of custody with the utmost compassion. Our attorneys are skilled negotiators and dedicated to helping our clients find long-term solutions that are in everyone’s best interest. Contact us today for a confidential consultation at 919-533-4115, or complete our online form.
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