Grandparents play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives. When your ability to spend time with your grandchild is threatened, it’s important to understand your rights. In North Carolina, grandparents’ rights are not protected to the same extent as parents’ rights. There is no statutory protection for grandparents seeking visitation. Instead, courts decide whether grandparents are entitled to visitation based on the child’s best interest and welfare. 

As a grandparent, you do have certain rights. If you want to pursue visitation or custody rights, the attorneys at Greene Wilson Crow & Smith are here to help. We have an in-depth understanding of North Carolina family laws. We will answer your questions and help you pursue visitation or custody.. 

Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in North Carolina

North Carolina family courts recognize the importance of family bonds for children, including those with grandparents. However, parents generally have the right to decide whether their children have a relationship with their grandchildren. Parents can deny grandparents visitation rights as long as they are competent and have legal custody of their children. 

If you’ve been denied access to your grandchildren, you can petition the family court for visitation. You and your attorney will need to demonstrate that the child’s parents are not fit to be parents to gain visitation rights. You’ll also need to show your grandchild will benefit from your involvement in their life. 

Obtaining visitation rights can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. In some cases, having a visitation schedule drafted by the family court can ensure you, as a grandparent, can continue being part of your grandchild’s life.

Petitioning the Court for Visitation Rights as a Grandparent

Grandparents aren’t automatically granted visitation rights. Instead, they must file a visitation petition during the child’s custody hearing. Specifically, grandparents can file a Motion to Intervene in an ongoing custody dispute between their grandchild’s parents. The Motion to Intervene needs to be filed in a timely manner. 

After the court has made a child custody decision, or if the matter has been resolved through other means, grandparents will not have the opportunity to intervene and become a third party in the legal matter. 

If the court allows a grandparent to become a third party in a child’s custody matter, he or she will need to provide proof that they have a substantial relationship with their grandchild or grandchildren. As a grandparent, hiring your own attorney can help you avoid the appearance of a legal conflict with either of the child’s parents. The court will review your petition to decide whether allowing visitation rights with you promotes the child’s well-being. Visitation isn’t limited to biological children but can also apply to adopted grandchildren. 

The Threshold for Obtaining Visitation Rights as a Grandparent Is High

While it is possible to petition the court for visitation rights, obtaining rights is challenging. An attorney can help you provide evidence that the denial of visitation rights would significantly harm your grandchild’s overall well-being. 

Grandparents face a high burden of proof because North Carolina courts prioritize parents’ rights to make decisions about their child’s upbringing, including whether to allow grandparents to spend time with their children. An attorney can help you prove visitation is necessary and in the child’s best interests by providing specific examples of your close relationship with your grandchild. 

When disputes between the child’s biological parents arise, grandparents have a limited window of time to successfully pursue visitation rights to continue having a substantial relationship with their grandchild or grandchildren. If your grandchild’s parents are involved in a custody dispute and your relationship with your grandchild is being threatened, it’s crucial to hire an attorney to represent your interests as soon as possible. 

The Custody Rights of Grandchildren in North Carolina

If there is no open case regarding custody of your grandchild, your only option is to seek custody of your grandchild. It is more difficult for a grandparent to obtain custody of a grandchild than to seek visitation. When pursuing custody, grandparents must prove parents have abandoned the child or that the child is being severely neglected. 

When parents cannot or will not care for their children, the state will consider relatives to find them potential guardians. In other words, if the Department of Social Services wouldn’t remove your grandchild from their parents, a judge will not award you custody. 

When Can Grandparents Get Custody of Their Grandchildren?

Obtaining custody as a grandparent requires proving that the parents are unfit. However, even if a court deems one parent unfit, the child’s parental family will be considered. If the other parent is suitable in the court’s eyes, he or she will likely be allowed to parent the child. 

Obtaining custody of your grandchild will require proving both the child’s parents are unfit or unwilling to care for the child. Some of the many factors that contribute to a court deeming a parent unfit include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Being unable to care for a child financially
  • Drug abuse
  • Mental illness or instability
  • Allowing a child to live in a dangerous place
  • Abandoning a child

Even when parents can’t provide their child with adequate care and someone else needs to step in, the court’s process for determining custody isn’t simple or automatic. Grandparents don’t always have priority for custody over other surviving relatives. 

Under North Carolina law, any “parent, relative, or other person, agency, organization or institution claiming the right to custody of a minor child” may file for custody. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.1(a)). An extended family member, such as an older sibling or uncle, could seek custody. An attorney can help you prove that receiving custody of your grandchild would be in his or her best interest. 

Discuss Your Case with a Grandparents’ Rights Attorney in North Carolina

The state of North Carolina has a strong interest in protecting parents’ rights to maintain custody of their children. However, when parents are unable or unwilling to provide children with a safe environment, grandparents frequently provide for their grandchildren. 

Whether you’re pursuing custody of your grandchildren or you’d like to pursue visitation with them, the family law attorneys at Greene Wilson Crow & Smith are here to help. Contact Greene Wilson Crow & Smith to schedule a complimentary case evaluation and learn more about our legal services.