Grandparent Rights To Custody & Visitation in NC.
In NC, grandparents have limited rights to seek visitation or custody of their grandchildren. As soon as grandparents learn that their child is facing a divorce, their main concern may be whether they can visit their grandchildren after the divorce.
Grandparents can seek visitation of grandchildren when the children’s parents are divorcing and have an open lawsuit. Grandparents can also seek custody of grandchildren who are neglected, abandoned or in a dangerous situation. We know that many grandparents are asking the questions, “can grandparents sue for visitation or custody or will courts order visitation for grandparents.” We explain the possibilities for grandparents seeking custody of their grandchildren or visitation of grandchildren below.
Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in North Carolina?
Maybe. However, timing is critical in determining visitation-related issues for grandparents. If you wait just a little too long before making your move, your right to even make a claim for visitation could be lost.
The state of North Carolina has four statutes that allow a grandparent to maintain an action for custody or visitation of a grandchild:
(N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.1(a)) — “Any parent, relative, or other person, agency, organization or institution claiming the right to custody of a minor child may institute an action or proceeding for the custody of such child, as hereinafter provided.”
(N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.2(b1)) — “An order for custody of a minor child may provide visitation rights for any grandparent of the child as the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate. As used in this subsection, “grandparent” includes a biological grandparent of a child adopted by a stepparent or a relative of the child where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child….”
(N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.2A) — “A biological grandparent may institute an action or proceeding for visitation rights with a child adopted by a stepparent or a relative of the child where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child. Under no circumstances shall a biological grandparent of a child adopted by adoptive parents, neither of whom is related to the child and where parental rights of both biological parents have been terminated, be entitled to visitation rights. A court may award visitation rights if it determines that visitation is in the best interest of the child…”
(N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.5(j)) — “In any action in which the custody of a minor child has been determined, upon a motion in the cause and a showing of changed circumstances pursuant to G.S. 50-13.7, the grandparents of the child are entitled to such custody or visitation rights as the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate. As used in this subsection, “grandparent” includes a biological grandparent of a child adopted by a stepparent or a relative of the child where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child. Under no circumstances shall a biological grandparent of a child adopted by adoptive parents, neither of whom is related to the child and where parental rights of both biological parents have been terminated, be entitled to visitation rights.”
In laymen’s terms, if your grandchild’s parents have an open lawsuit in court then you can file to intervene in the case and seek visitation of your grandchild. The court will use the best interest of the child standard to determine if you should have visitation and how often the visitation is allowed.
Grandparents Visitation vs. Custody
When it comes to issues of grandparents’ rights, the courts of North Carolina have clearly distinguished custody from visitation. The basic law states that grandparents only have a right to intervene and seek visitation while the custody case is ongoing. Once parents have reached an agreement on custody, or when the court has already decided the custody, grandparents generally can no longer seek visitation.
If you’re a grandparent with only the best interests of your grandchildren in mind, it’s very important to contact us early so you can have an informed decision on what to do next in order to maintain your close relationship with your grandchildren even after their parents’ divorce.
It is much more difficult for grandparents to seek custody of a grandchild then it is for a grandparent to seek visitation. If there is not an open case, your only option is to seek custody. In order to survive a ruling on standing (the right to file a lawsuit), grandparents must show that the parents have abandoned the child or that their grandchild is being severely neglected. Basically, if DSS wouldn’t take your grandchild away from their parents, a judge isn’t going to award you custody.