Grandparents love their children. This is an inherent, indisputable human fact. They want to experience their childhoods, visit them, hold them, and guide them. Unfortunately, we often see that the parents of these grandchildren have widely differing opinions about what sort of contact and influence the grandparents can have. This is usually due to poor relationships, lingering resentment of adult children toward their parents, conflicting views on parenting, or parents and in-laws who just cannot get along. Unfortunately for grandparents in North Carolina, when denied access to their grandchildren, they have limited legal options.
Grandparent Rights During a Custody Dispute
Generally, grandparents cannot file lawsuits to seek visitation or access to a child while the child is part of an intact family. This means that if fit parents cut off grandparents’ visitation, those grandparents have no legal recourse to get access. This is primarily due to the constitutional ramifications of a parent’s rights to their children. An exception to this is if there is a pending divorce or child custody proceeding.
Grandparents have the ability to legally intervene in an active lawsuit involving child custody, a custody dispute, or the modification of an existing custody order. The burden of proof in this circumstance is on the grandparent who seeks visitation to demonstrate that the requested visitation is in the child’s best interest.
The court has a broad scope of evidence that it can consider, but will generally put emphasis on: (1) the existing relationship between the child and grandparent; (2) whether the request is realistic and reasonable; and (3) the relationship between the grandparents and the child’s parents. While courts are generally reluctant to disturb or limit the parent-child relationship, they will generally listen to requests that are reasonable.
Grandparents Seeking Custody
The only circumstance that allows a grandparent to seek custody of a grandchild is when the child’s custodial parent has abused or neglected the child or is somehow determined to be an unfit parent. In this extreme circumstance, the grandparent can file a motion with the appropriate court and has the burden of proof to demonstrate to the court that the parents are unfit. This can be shown by evidence of harm to the child, failure to protect the child from harm, neglect of the child, failure to meet the child’s needs, failure to support the child, or failure to maintain a relationship with the child. It is not uncommon for this type of circumstance to also involve an investigation and/or legal involvement by the Division of Social Services, Child Protective Services.
New Direction Family Law
If you are a parent or grandparent involved in a custody dispute, and are facing a potential fight over grandparent visitation, please contact New Direction Family Law. With over two decades of legal experience, our attorneys can walk you through your legal options. We will provide honest answers to your questions and treat you with the respect that you deserve. Call New Direction Family Law today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a legal consultation or visit us at our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law