Grandparents hold a special place in their hearts for their grandchildren. Often times when a couple separates, grandparents begin to wonder if their relationship with their grandchildren will be affected.
In North Carolina there are limited circumstances for grandparents to seek visitation with their grandchildren. Most commonly, if the parents of the grandchild are involved in a custody lawsuit, grandparents can seek to be included in the lawsuit to get court ordered visitation. This process is called intervening in a custody lawsuit. North Carolina has three laws that outline when a grandparent can file for visitation:
- N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.2(b1) states: “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.” The statute goes on to define grandparent to include “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 states: “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) states: “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.” It is important to note that the statute does carve out an exception for adopted grandchildren who have been adopted by someone who is not related to the child. The statute specifically states, “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.”
Grandparents should know that just because a court allows you to intervene, or be included in the custody case, does not mean you will automatically get visitation. The court must believe the grandparent has a substantial relationship with minor child and that visitation is in the minor child’s best interest.
Grandparents can also seek custody of their grandchild, which is a step up from custody. The standard for grandparents seeking custody, which is the physical care and supervision of a minor child, is very high. Common examples where grandparents seek custody are when the child is abused, neglected or the parent is otherwise unfit.
If you are a grandparent that is seeking visitation or custody of your grandchild, having a family law attorney with experience in these cases is important to understand what options and legal avenues are best for your case. It is important to act quickly in grandparent visitation cases, especially if the parents are currently involved in a lawsuit for custody.