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Raleigh Family Lawyer Discusses Grandparents’ Rights To Child Visitation

R. Maria Hawkins - 3/16/2017

image of grandparents with grandchildren - raleigh family lawyer

Generally, grandparents share a special bond with their grandchildren.  When a grandparent’s access to their grandchild is blocked, or a grandparent thinks that may be on the horizon, it can be frightening and extremely stressful. 

What should you do if you feel like your rights to see your grandchildren are threatened?  Seek out an experienced family law attorney for help!

What is important to remember is not to wait until the last minute to hire an attorney, especially in grandparent visitation (or grandparent custody) cases.  Because you are not a legal parent to the child, there are few circumstances where you can ask the court for visitation and you do not want to miss your chance!  

In North Carolina, grandparents do have rights to visitation with their grandchildren under specific circumstances.  North Carolina courts look at two prongs when determining whether a grandparent has a right to seek visitation: (1) who is asking for visitation and (2) when they are asking for visitation.

Who Is Considered A Grandparent For Visitation Purposes?

North Carolina law allows a biological grandparent, an adoptive grandparent and a step-grandparent to seek visitation. 

While you may think that adoption cuts off the rights of the natural grandparents, this is not always the case.  A biological grandparent can still seek visitation of a child adopted by a stepparent or relative, so long as a substantial relationship exists between the biological grandparent and the child. 

That being said, a biological grandparent is not entitled to visitation if both biological parents of the child had their parental rights terminated.

A step-grandparent is also entitled to seek visitation of their step-grandchild, so long as the biological grandparent is still alive and step-grandparent is still married to the biological grandparent.

When Can A Grandparent Get Visitation?

North Carolina law allows grandparents to seek visitation in two situations.  The first situation is when the grandparents allege the grandchild’s parents are unfit, have abandoned or neglected the child, or have died. 

The second situation is when the parents of the grandchild are now separated or divorced and custody of the grandchild is already at issue (meaning there is a current court case going on).  If custody action is already filed with the court, grandparents must intervene in the court action to seek visitation.

While it is best to seek grandparent visitation when the custody action is still active, if you missed this window, you may still be able to seek visitation.  Grandparents in North Carolina may also file a “motion in the cause” after custody and visitation have already been decided if they can prove there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the last custody order was entered.    

Why?  This is because child custody orders are subject to modification if there is a substantial change in circumstance that warrants the modification and that modification is in the best interests of the child. 

It is important to note that if one parent dies OR a child reaches the age a majority, the custody order as to that child cannot be modified and motions in the cause may not be filed.  The one exception to this is if the parent dies after a court has already recognized visitation rights for the grandparent.

What Do You Have To Prove For Visitation?

As the grandparent seeking visitation, you will have the burden of proof.  This means you must show the court that visitation with you is in the best interests of your grandchild.  If you are asking the court to modify a custody order already in place, you must prove that not only has there been a substantial change in circumstance, but that the change in circumstances warrants a change in the custody order to allow your visitation. 

Our laws do not define what a substantial change in circumstance is; however, if the parents allowed you to visit before, and then stopped allowing you visitation, that may be considered a substantial change in circumstance that would allow for a modification.

When Should You Call A Lawyer About Grandparent Visitation?

As soon as possible!  Grandparent visitation and custody can be extremely difficult to get and having an experienced attorney in your corner will make sure you are putting your best foot forward.  Call the office of Kurtz & Blum today to speak with an experienced child custody attorney regarding your rights to visitation as a grandparent.



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