North Carolina Grandparent Rights Guidelines
When parents divorce, grandparents often lose contact with their grandchildren. In North Carolina, grandparents have the right to request visitation during divorce proceedings but may not disturb the family unit once the divorce has been settled. Grandparents may also seek custody of their grandchildren if they believe the parents are unfit.
Grandparents are not automatically granted visitation rights when the parents divorce in North Carolina. However, grandparents have the right to petition the court for visitation rights during divorce proceedings. Grandparents may ask for visitation rights even if one or both parents object. The court decides visitation rights based upon the children’s best interest; if grandparents demonstrate that they have a close, ongoing relationship with their grandchildren, the court is more likely to grant visitation rights.
N.C. General Statute Section 50-13.1(a) allows any relative to petition the state’s courts for visitation under certain circumstances. However, if the family is otherwise intact, the North Carolina courts are required to follow a standard set forth in the Troxel v. Granville decision which held: Courts will not interfere with the married spouses’ decisions regarding the upbringing of their children, even if they decide to disallow visitation with the child’s grandparents.. . . parents who make decisions to withhold visitation from the child’s grandparents are given constitutional protection to make that decision.
Grandparents of Natural Child
If the child’s parents are divorced or separated, then the grandparent may file for custody and visitation with the North Carolina family courts, even though the divorced spouses object to the visitation. However, the family law courts will determine whether the child’s best interests will be served with visitation from grandparents.
Grandparents of Stepchild
Under North Carolina law, not all grandparents are entitled to seek visitation and custody rights. If a child was legally adopted by the mother’s husband (stepfather), then “grandparent” includes the stepfather’s biological parents so long as there is a significant relationship between grandchildren and grandparents. In these cases, however, the family law judges have judicial discretion to award visitation and will typically consider parental wishes.
Grandparents of Adopted Child
North Carolina specifically disallows visitation rights for biological grandparents seeking access to their adopted child whose parents are not the child’s birth parents. If the child’s parents have both terminated their birth rights, and the child is legally adopted, then the North Carolina courts will not grant visitation or custody.
Adoption and Visitation Rights
In cases where a step-parent adopts her step-children, North Carolina allows grandparents to petition the courts for visitation rights. In cases where strangers adopt a child at birth and both biological parents’ rights over the child are terminated, biological grandparents do not have the right to seek visitation with the child.
Note: The foregoing information is provided as general family law guidelines in North Carolina and should not be considered as legal advice specific to your case. After reviewing the above material, you will be presented with the opportunity to submit more details specific to your case directly to About The Children.
By: Linda O’Marie, Paralegal