grandparents-rights-north-carolina

Grandparents’ Rights for Visitation in North Carolina

Grandparents’ rights vary between states. Because of this, it’s important to understand the statutes your state has surrounding this topic. What is in the best interest of the child is always considered prior to granting grandparents custody or visitation. Below you can find common FAQs regarding grandparents’ rights in North Carolina.

Are there any North Carolina laws that deal with Grandparents’ rights?

There are essentially four North Carolina Statutes that deal with the visitation rights of grandparents:  N.C.G.S. §50-13.1(a), §50-13.2(b1), §50-13.5(j), and §50-13.2(A).

Do I have any rights as a grandparent to force the parents to let me see my grandchildren?

Parents have a constitutionally protected status in relation to the care, custody and control of their minor children. No third party, including a grandparent, has the right to tell an “intact” family with whom their child(ren) may or must associate.  An intact family is one where the parents live together or parent and child live together when the other parent is deceased or is a non-custodial parent in a custody order.  In the latter instance, grandparents may be lucky enough to see and contact their grandchildren when the grandchildren are with the noncustodial parent, usually, the grandparent’s child.  However, if there is an intact family consisting of a parent and child and the grandparents’ child has died, the grandparents do not have visitation rights.

When is the best time to seek visitation rights of my own?

When the parents of a child have separated and are undergoing negotiations to resolve their differences with a separation agreement, it is advisable that the grandparents seek some sort of visitation to be allocated to them in the resulting separation agreement.  If possible, the custody and child support provisions should be the subject of a “friendly” lawsuit and a Consent Order.  Since the parents are able to work out a separation agreement without resorting to litigation, the parent should be willing to place visitation rights of a minimal nature for both sets of grandparents in the separation agreement/consent order which would allow contact with the grandchildren in the future if the relationship between the parents disintegrates or one predeceases the other.

What if the parents are involved in a custody suit?

It is even more imperative to become involved in litigation between the parents if one of the parents files a lawsuit against the other for custody.  This is especially true when there is a history of animosity between the one parent and the grandparents or the separation has occasioned extreme animosity and indifference to the feelings of the grandparents.

To protect their rights, the grandparents must intervene in the initial custody action prior to the Court’s decision on custody to establish visitation rights with the grandchild(ren) in the event the relationship between a parent and the grandparents disintegrates.

Do I have “standing” to intervene in the parents’ custody case?

Pursuant to N.C.G.S. §50-13.2(b1), the grandparent’s right to intervene is absolute.  The Court of Appeals of North Carolina in the case of Wellons vs. White vs. Wellons, 748 S.E.2d. 709 (2013) has stated “When the custody of a child is still an issue and is being litigated by the parents, then the grandparents have standing to seek intervention under N.C.G.S. §50-13.2(B1).  Under N.C.G.S. §50-13.2(b1), grandparents need not prove lack of intact family since an ongoing parental custody dispute exists.  The trial court may award grandparent visitation in the subsequent custody order at its discretion.

What do I have to show to be allowed to have visitation?

 Once the court grants the intervention (hopefully by consent of the opposing counsel) but sometimes after a hearing, the trial of the custody matter, the court must hear evidence with regards to whether a substantial relationship exists between the grandparents and the child(ren).  If a substantial relationship exists, and an order allowing grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the minor child(ren), the court should provide for visitation and contact with the grandchild(ren) for the grandparents in its discretion.

Do you have any “how to” tips for grandparents? 

I believe it is good practice to set forth in the motion to intervene the facts that the grandparents allege show that they have a substantial relationship with their grandchildren.  It is a lot of work; however, often enough to convince the opposing attorney that there is no reason they should oppose the motion to intervene and which, of course, if plead properly should be granted as a matter of right anyway.

What type of visitation will be ordered?

This depends on the judge and the circumstances of each case.  Generally the ordered visitation is not nearly what a parent would receive, perhaps a few weeks in the summer and a weekend every month or so, plus perhaps time during the holiday period around winter break from school.

The court need not provide much visitation at all to protect a grandparent’s rights.  In most instances, grandparents will see their grandchildren after the parents’ separation on occasion throughout the year.  Some of the occasions of contact may be with the parent who is not the child of the grandparents.  Usually however, the grandparents will see the children during the time that their child has the children in their care and control.  In the event the grandparents’ child dies, however, prior to the grandchildren obtaining the age of eighteen (18) years, the grandparents with even minimum visitation of even one weekend a year may make a motion to modify a previous custody order under N.C.G.S. §50-13.5(j) and seek additional time.

In a case in Iredell County, a father was awarded ample visitation with the children.  The court knew that the relationship between the grandmother and her son, the father of the children was excellent and that the grandparents would see the grandchildren on a regular basis when the children were with father.  Therefore, the court did not award specific visitation; However, the court ordered that if something happened to father, that the grandparent would step into his shoes.

Can Mother and Father collude in a consent order to effectively end a grandparent’s rights?

No – The North Carolina Court of Appeals has held that the grandparents, after having intervened in a case, have rights to have the court determine visitation even in the event the parents settle their case prior to the hearing of the action on custody/visitation and to be involved in future actions in the case