Grandparents in North Carolina have a statutory right to court-ordered visitation under certain circumstances. This right is available only to those grandparents whose grandchildren are the subject of ongoing custody litigation. Where there is ongoing custody litigation, grandparents may intervene, which allows them to become parties to the proceeding. Where there is no custody litigation, meaning the family is an “in-tact” family, grandparents have no right to sue for visitation, since parents are vested with the constitutional right to determine who sees their children. If there is ongoing custody litigation, grandparents who want to intervene for purposes of visitation must show the court that they have a substantial relationship with the minor children.
It is therefore important to understand that a grandparent who has not yet established a relationship with the minor child cannot meet the statutory requirements to intervene. For example, in the case of a newborn or where parents have not allowed a substantial relationship to develop between the minor children and grandparents, the grandparents will be unable to intervene in an ongoing custody action. Finally, to secure a court-ordered visitation schedule, grandparents must show the court that such a visitation schedule is in the minor children’s best interest.
There are other situations in which grandparents may become involved in custody litigation. Any third party, including a grandparent, has the right to seek the custody of a minor child if parents have abused or neglected the minor child or have otherwise acted so as to abrogate their parental rights and the party seeking custody has a relationship with the minor child. If the court determines such circumstances exist so that a third party has standing to pursue custody, the court will then determine whether vesting custody in a third party is in the minor child’s best interest. It is increasingly common to see grandparents raising their grandchildren as a result of these kinds of situations.
Of course, every custody matter is unique. No court proceeding is more complex, emotional and important than a child custody action. If you are facing a custody matter, whether as a parent or grandparent, you need the advice of a family law attorney who has expertise and experience in this complicated practice area. Our firm has extensive experience representing parents and grandparents in all facets of custody litigation. Call us today at 919-850-9199 to schedule a consultation, or contact us online.