Grandparents Rights in North Carolina

Most of North Carolina’s custody and visitation laws address potential custody disputes between parents. Because of this, grandparents can often be left wondering what rights they have to visitation and/or custody when the parents of their grandchildren separate.

In certain cases, North Carolina law allows a grandparent to seek visitation rights through the court system. However, our state’s laws on grandparent visitation rights are rather complex and limited.

Seeking visitation – The biggest factor that limits grandparents from seeking visitation is one that is distinct to North Carolina: visitation actions must be filed in conjunction with a pending custody action and can generally only be filed when the custody case is open. Grandparents do not have a legal right to file a claim for visitation independently.  If the parents of the children are not involved in a pending custody case regarding the children, a grandparent does not have the ability to sue the parents to see their grandchildren.

Only grandparents with a substantial relationship with the child(ren) can file for visitation. There is no law that defines what makes a relationship substantial, but a judge may consider different factors, such as how often the grandparents see the child(ren), if the grandparents provide childcare regularly, or if the grandparents provide necessities that benefit the health and well-being of the child(ren) such as supplies for school or funds for medical expenses.

Seeking custody – For grandparents, filing an action for custody can be much more difficult than filing an action for visitation. Typically, the only reason for a grandparent to initiate a custody proceeding is if the parent is unfit or has taken actions inconsistent with his or her parental status.

Those wanting more information on grandparent rights in North Carolina can read North Carolina General Statutes Section 50-13.1 and North Carolina General Statutes Section 50-13.2. If you or someone you know has questions about grandparent rights, contact one of our experienced family law attorneys today.