What Visitation Rights Do Grandparents Have in North Carolina?

Posted by Jonathan Jerkins | Oct 25, 2018 | 0 Comments

Divorce and child custody cases in North Carolina often affect more than just parents and children. Grandparents are a vital piece of a child's extended family, and changes in custody can affect how and when -- or even if -- grandparents can see their grandchildren.

North Carolina law gives grandparents ways to get court-ordered visitation, but these options are limited and difficult to navigate. However, in some circumstances, grandparents can get court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren. Grandparent visitation helps preserve this valuable relationship.

Best Interests of the Child in Raleigh, NC

In North Carolina, courts determine custody based on what "will best promote the interest and welfare of the child." Grandparents must show that continued contact with them is in the child's best interest. However, the courts also consider the "parental right" doctrine, which allows parents with their full parenting rights intact to determine who their child has contact with. Judges try to balance these two legal doctrines, so grandparents must have a legal reason and a strong case to file for visitation.

In North Carolina, Who Qualifies as a Grandparent?

Although some family relationships can be quite murky, North Carolina law is very specific about who is legally a grandparent. The term "grandparent" refers to the child's biological grandparents, or, if the child has been adopted, the adoptive grandparents. The law does not give standing to step-grandparents after the death or divorce of the child's step-parent.

Grandparents should have a "substantial relationship" with their grandchildren before filing for visitation. North Carolina law does not give "substantial relationship" a specific definition, but it may include attending social activities with grandchildren or regular visits at the grandparent's home. If the custodial parent has terminated contact between grandparents and grandchildren, this lack of contact does not automatically eliminate the "substantial relationship" between grandparents and grandchildren.

Filing for Visitation in Wake County, NC

Grandparents cannot open a new court case for visitation. They also cannot file if the children's parents are married to each other and the family is intact, or if the court has already issued a final custody order. In these cases, the parent's constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit, including determining who their children have contact with, overrides the grandparent's desire for visitation.

However, grandparents may file for visitation in North Carolina in three situations.

  1. If the grandparents believe that the parents are unfit or are not upholding their parental responsibilities by, for example, neglecting or abandoning the child. This situation also includes the death of a parent.
  2. When there is a "substantial change in circumstances," including if the custodial parent had allowed visitation between the child and the grandparents but then suddenly stopped it.
  3. If the custody case is still open, the judge can order grandparent visitation as part of the final custody order.

Raleigh, NC Grandparent Visitation & Family Law Attorney

If you have questions about grandparent visitation rights in North Carolina, please contact Jerkins Family Law today. Our dedicated attorneys are committed to helping you in your time of need. We understand it is an emotional time and will help you navigate it to preserve your relationship with your grandchildren. Contact Us today.

About the Author

Jonathan Jerkins

Jonathan "Jay" Jerkins, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, intentionally focuses his practice on all aspects of North Carolina family law litigation and negotiations. Jay was admitted to the practice of law in North Carolina in 2014.


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