Grandparents Custody and Visitation Rights in North Carolina

11 Apr 2010

Raleigh, North Carolina, divorce attorney, Stephanie J. Gibbs of the law firm of Gailor Hunt Jenkins Davis & Taylor, a Raleigh, North Carolina family law firm educates grandparents about custody and visitation rights with their grandchildren under North Carolina law.

When parents separate and divorce, grandparents sometimes get caught in the middle and opportunities to spend time with their grandchildren may be restricted by one or both parents. In those cases if grandparents don’t become legally involved in a custody case, they risk losing all rights to see their grandchildren in the future.

To address concerns about maintaining the special bond between children and their grandparents, the North Carolina legislature enacted laws that specifically address the rights of grandparents in custody cases.  One of those laws permits grandparents to “intervene” – that is, become parties to a pending custody case – so that they have a legal and enforceable right to visit their grandchildren after a divorce.

In North Carolina, when an “intact family” exists, no other person, including a grandparent, may intervene to ask the court for permission to see the child, over a parent’s objection.   After a judge has made a final decision about child custody and visitation, the child is legally considered to be living with each parent in an “intact family.”  Under the law, single-parent homes are considered as “intact” as homes in which both parents live together.  Therefore, when parents of a child are separated and a grandparent fears that one or both parents may prevent the grandparent from having a relationship with a grandchild, the grandparent may wish to intervene in the initial custody determination prior to the court’s decision on custody to establish custody or visitation rights with the grandchild which are not dependent on the goodwill of the custodial parent. .  Once a grandparent is allowed to intervene, the court must decide whether a “substantial relationship” exists between the grandparent and child, and whether that relationship warrants an order allowing a grandparent to spend time with the child.

If one of the parents later requests to modify the initial custody order, a grandparent may file a “motion to intervene” in that case, asking the court for permission to become a party in the modification suit so that he or she may seek custody or visitation rights.  Grandparents have an absolute right to intervene in such cases, so long as the case is pending
In a handful of North Carolina cases, grandparents lost their right to ever visit their grandchildren after a parent died following a final custody decision where the grandparents did not intervene, and the surviving parent did not want the visits to occur.  Under the law, the surviving parent and children constituted an “intact family,” and the court has generally held in those cases that the grandparents had no right to intervene and the court no longer had jurisdiction to allow the grandparent to do so.

In a divorce situation grandparents should consult with Stephanie Gibbs of the family law firm of Gailor Hunt Jenkins Davis & Taylor of Raleigh, North Carolina who has experience in grandparents’ custody and visitation rights to determine the best course for protecting that special bond with their grandchildren.

Contributor: Stephanie J. Gibbs – Stephanie Gibbs is an associate attorney in the Raleigh, North Carolina Family Law Firm of Gailor Hunt Jenkins Davis & Taylor, PLLC.  For more information contact the Raleigh, North Carolina Family Law Firm of Gailor Hunt Jenkins Davis & Taylor, PLLC at 1101 Haynes Street, Suite 201, Raleigh, NC 27604, Tel: 919-832-8488 or go to www.gailorwallishunt.com.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is intended as a general guide and is not to be used as legal advice by Gailor Hunt Jenkins Davis & Taylor, PLLC. Whether or not you may be entitled to take action in regard to the information addressed in this article can only be determined after a thorough review of the facts and circumstances of your case.