When parents separate, the issue of child custody can naturally become passionately contested. Both parents want to maintain their time and relationships with their children and draw their lines in the sand. Sometimes, grandparents see this battle and may come to the conclusion that they are going to end up with severely limited access to their precious grandchildren. This can lead to legal challenges by grandparents.
If you are a grandparent, or a parent who believes that a grandparent intends to fight over your children, it will interest you to know some of the rights afforded to grandparents in North Carolina.
The Right to Visitation in a Custody Order
North Carolina General Statute Section 50-13.2 allows a court to grant visitation rights for grandparents under certain circumstances that are more thoroughly defined by previous North Carolina cases. Specifically, the statute allows a court to order “visitation rights for any grandparent of the child as the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate.” A court’s discretion to grant this visitation is incredibly broad; however, courts are generally hesitant to order grandparent visitation if the child’s parents are both fit and appropriate, as these orders impede on a parent’s ability to parent their children. On the other hand, grandparents may seek custody of grandchildren even when there is no pending custody case under certain conditions including if the minor child has been neglected or abandoned.
Significantly, a biological grandparent of a child who has been adopted by non-relatives and whose parents’ rights have been terminated are not entitled to visitation. But it does apply to the biological grandparents of a child adopted by a step-parent or a relative of the child “where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child.”
Supplemental Contact by Electronic Communication
If it is in the child’s best interest, a court may also order electronic communication between a grandparent and a child as supplemental contact between them. The court can dictate the terms of this communication, such as the when, where, and how of the contact, as well as who has to pay the expenses of facilitating this contact.
Grandparents of Adopted Children Have Rights as Well
When children have been adopted by a step-parent or another relative, biological grandparents are afforded additional rights. General Statute Section 50-13.2A allows a biological grandparent to file an original action or proceeding for visitation rights in this circumstance when the grandparent can demonstrate a “substantial relationship” with the child and that visitation is in the child’s best interest.
Modification of Child Custody
Another time that grandparents have an opportunity to seek visitation is when parents file lawsuits to modify existing custody orders. General Statute subsection 50-13.5(j) allows that a grandparent can be granted custody or visitation as a court deems appropriate upon a motion in the cause and a showing of a substantial change of circumstances. Again, this is an uphill climb for many grandparents unless there is some indication that the parents are unfit or that the lack of ordered visitation with a grandparent would truly be detrimental to the child.
Contact New Direction Family Law
Child custody and visitation are a common source of heated legal battles. If you need assistance, contact New Direction Family Law. Our attorneys are passionate about serving our clients and provide thoughtful, effective legal guidance. Let us stand by you. We serve clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Contact our office at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation or visit us online through our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law