Grandparents and other relatives who are close to their relative's children can feel just as close to these kids as their parents. This may include wanting to visit them and look out for them if the child is in harm's way. Family fights, divorce or separation, or drug or alcohol problems may cause the parents to distance themselves and their children from others, including grandparents. Grandparents and third-parties have limited options for seeking visitation rights or custody of the children.
If a child's parents are not providing a safe environment or are being cared for by non-relatives, you may be able to seek custody or visitation. Talk to an experienced North Carolina family law attorney about your rights and options as a grandparent or third-party in custody or visitation.
Grandparent or Other Relative Seeking Custody in North Carolina
Grandparents, relatives, or any other person can seek child custody in limited situations. Under N.C. Gen.Stat. § 50–13.1(a), any parent, relative, or other person, agency, organization, or institution claiming the right to custody of a minor child may institute an action for custody, under certain circumstances.
Grandparents who initiate custody lawsuits must show that the parent is unfit due to neglect or abandonment. Without a showing that the parents are unfit, a court will not likely grant custody to any grandparent or other relative.
Showing a parent to be unfit is generally a requirement to seek custody of a child. Parents have a fundamental right to make decisions about the care and control of their children, even if grandparents disagree with how the children are being raised. The parents' right to custody can be taken away where the parents are found to be unfit or where the parents' voluntary conduct is inconsistent with their parenting rights.
Temporary loss of custody may not indicate the parent's conduct is inconsistent with their parenting rights. Inconsistent conduct may include abandoning the child to be raised by a non-parent.
Unfit parenting generally requires some physical, mental, emotional, or sexual harm or threat of harm to the child. This could involve domestic violence in the home, drug or alcohol abuse, failing to provide food, shelter, or clothing, or other forms of neglect. If a court finds the parent is unfit, then custody may depend on what is in the best interests of the child. This may or may not be the grandparents or other relative seeking custody.
Grandparent Seeking Visitation in North Carolina
Visitation may be available for grandparents where there is an ongoing custody proceeding and the child's family is not intact. Under N.C. Gen.Stat. § 50–13.2, “an order for custody of a minor child may provide visitation rights for any grandparent of the child as the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate.”
Grandparents include biological grandparents of a child who has been adopted by a stepparent or relative of the child, where there is a substantial relationship between the child and the grandparent. A “substantial relationship,” may involve helping to raise the child, the child living with the grandparents for a time, regular visits. and participation in social activities.
If a child is adopted by parents who are unrelated to the child and where the parental rights of both biological parents have been terminated, the grandparent is not entitled to visitation rights.
There is no specific statute that provides for visitation rights of other relatives, including aunts, uncles, cousins, or godparents. Unfortunately for relatives of these children, if the parents do not want other relatives to visit, those relatives do not have visitation rights to see the children.
Visitation for Grandparents in North Carolina
It can be difficult for loving grandparents or other relatives to hear from a child's parents that they cannot see the children. If a child is being threatened with harm or neglect, grandparents, relatives, and other third-parties may be able to seek custody to protect the child.
The attorneys at Caulder & Valentine provide experienced family law services to individuals seeking custody or visitation. Contact us in Shelby today for a consultation.