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Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights?

When it comes to family law, one area that often carries a lot of emotions and concerns revolves around the rights of grandparents and visitation. Families in North Carolina often wonder: do grandparents have the legal right to visit their grandchildren? Greenwood Law, founded by attorney Dylan W. Greenwood, is here to shed light on grandparents’ visitation rights in the Tar Heel State.

The Basics of Grandparents’ Rights in North Carolina

In North Carolina, grandparents have limited legal standing to request visitation rights, and these rights are primarily available in situations involving child custody disputes. It’s important to note that the right to request visitation does not extend to cases solely concerned with divorce unless such cases also involve disputes over child custody. Contrary to common perception, the marital status of the child’s parents does not significantly impact the grandparents’ ability to secure visitation rights.

If the family is considered “intact,” meaning the parents are either together or there is no ongoing or pending custody action involving the child, then the avenues for a grandparent to successfully petition for visitation rights are exceedingly narrow. In such circumstances, it is next to impossible for grandparents to obtain any visitation rights unless there is an immediate and extreme situation where the child is in imminent danger of death or bodily injury. In these rare and exceptional cases, the grandparents may be able to intervene for the sake of the child’s immediate safety.

When Can Grandparents Seek Visitation?

In North Carolina, the critical question that governs whether grandparents can seek legal intervention for visitation rights with their grandchild is not the marital status or living arrangement of the child’s parents. Instead, the pivotal issue is whether there is an ongoing or pending legal action specifically concerning child custody between the parents. If such a custody dispute exists, then grandparents have the legal option to petition the court to intervene and become a party to the child custody lawsuit for the purpose of requesting visitation privileges with the grandchild. In other words, the door for grandparents to intervene opens solely in cases where there is active litigation between the parents regarding the custody of the child.

Once a final order concerning child custody has been issued by the court, the opportunity for grandparents to intervene for the purpose of seeking visitation rights is essentially foreclosed if they have not already become a party to the lawsuit. Contrary to some misunderstandings, grandparents cannot subsequently petition the court for a modification of the custody or visitation arrangement on the basis of a “substantial change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the child.” This legal option is unavailable to them unless they had properly intervened in the initial custody action before the final order was entered. The concept of a “pending” custody action, which is a necessary condition for grandparents to be able to intervene, no longer applies once a final custody order has been established. 

If the parents are unfit or have acted inconsistently with their parental rights, a grandparent may seek legal and physical custody of the grandchild.

If the child has been adopted by a stepparent or another relative, and the grandparent has a substantial relationship with the child, a grandparent may initiate proceedings to pursue visitation with the grandchild.

However, grandparents have no right to ask for visitation when their grandchildren are living with both their parents in an intact family unit or when both biological parents have had their parental rights terminated and the child has been adopted by non-relatives.

Factors Considered by the Court

In North Carolina, if a case involving grandparents’ visitation rights manages to reach the stage where the court is considering the “best interests of the child,” several factors come into play. This “best interests” evaluation is not an automatic or initial stage in the process; rather, it is a secondary level of scrutiny that occurs only after the court has determined that grandparents have the legal standing to pursue visitation, usually within the specific context of a pending or ongoing action for child custody between the parents.

Once the case has advanced to the best interests stage, North Carolina courts will consider a variety of factors to determine the appropriateness of granting visitation rights to grandparents. These may include:

  1. The existing relationship between the grandchild and the grandparent.
  2. The child’s overall well-being and emotional health.
  3. Any evidence suggesting the visitation is in the child’s best interest.
  4. The reason for the parents’ decision to deny visitation to the grandparents.

Contact a North Carolina Family Lawyer

In North Carolina, while grandparents do have the right to seek visitation, it’s important to understand the potential challenges in the process. It’s also important to have a trusted legal partner to handle your case.

If you’re a grandparent seeking visitation rights or have questions about your legal standing, Greenwood Law is here to help. To discuss your specific situation and get advice, reach out to Greenwood Law online or call 336-661-8788. We take cases at the state and federal levels, and having someone knowledgeable in both sets of laws can help steer your case in the best possible direction. With Dylan W. Greenwood and his dedicated team by your side, you’re in capable and caring hands.

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