Grandparents are at risk to lose contact with their grandchildren if the parents separate. If animosity exists between the parents or between a parent and the grandparents, grandparents need to take legal action to ensure that they have a relationship with their grandchildren.
Parents have a constitutionally protected right regarding their minor children’s custody. No individual, including a grandparent, can interfere with an “intact” family. An intact family is one where the parents live together, or a parent and child live together when the other parent is deceased or when the other parent is a non-custodial parent through a court’s custody order.
If the parents separate and there is a likelihood of estrangement between a parent and the grandparents, the grandparents should seek grandparent visitation in the parents’ separation agreement. If possible, the custody provisions should be entered as a consent order. The parents’ order would allow the grandparents contact with their grandchildren notwithstanding the parents’ future circumstances (i.e., death of a parent who is grandparents’ child, estrangement).
In order to protect their rights in the situations above, the grandparents must intervene in the parents’ initial or modification custody action prior to the court’s decision on custody to establish visitation rights with their grandchildren.
The grandparents’ right to intervene in a custody action should be absolute if they prove they have a substantial relationship with their grandchildren. In NC, there is no “intact” family when an ongoing parental custody dispute exists in the courts. If the grandparents intervene, the court hears evidence whether a substantial relationship exists between the grandparents and their grandchildren. Then, if it is in the best interest of their grandchildren to have visitation with the grandparents (and it usually is), the court should provide for grandparental visitation.
Grandparents who are concerned with their visitation rights should contact an experienced attorney who can give them advice to preserve their relationship with their grandchildren.
William G. Whittaker is a partner at Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. in Matthews, North Carolina. He was licensed in 1982 in North Carolina and has been an attorney with the firm since 1988. Contact William at Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. at (704) 844-1400.
The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and William G. Whittaker or the law firm of Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. The particular facts and circumstances of your case will determine whether or not you have the right to pursue visitation under N.C.G.S. §50-13.2(b1).
Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. serves clients in North Carolina and South Carolina. Located in the town of Matthews between Mecklenburg and Union Counties in North Carolina since 1982, we proudly provide legal services throughout Charlotte, Matthews, Mint Hill, Stallings, Indian Trail, Monroe, Marvin, Wesley Chapel, Weddington, Waxhaw, and other surrounding communities in the Greater Charlotte area. Our clients range from national corporations and major banking institutions to individuals and local companies.