Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in North Carolina?

Learn about your right to ask for grandparent visitation after major family changes like a divorce, separation, or one parent’s death.

By , Attorney · Golden Gate University School of Law
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Grandparent visitation laws give grandparents the right to ask for time with their grandchildren before and/or after certain life-altering changes in the family structure. This article explains when and how you can ask for visits with your grandchildren in North Carolina.

Do I Have a Legal Right to see My Grandchild in North Carolina?

Grandparents have a legal right to ask for court-ordered visitation to spend time with their grandchildren in person and through "electronic communication," which includes:

  • telephone calls
  • emails
  • text messaging, and
  • using video conferencing tools, such as Skype or FaceTime.

This right can be exercised after a family court has made custody orders in a divorce, separation, or adoption.

What Will I Need to Prove in Court?

In North Carolina, grandparent visitation is not available if a child's family is intact. Before asking a judge for court-ordered time with a grandchild, a grandparent must establish that the child's family is no longer intact, based on a strain in the grandchild's immediate family structure arising from:

  • a divorce or legal separation
  • a stepparent or other relative adoption, or
  • an active custody dispute between unmarried parents.

A single parent household is also viewed as an intact family, unless the parents are divorced and/or in an ongoing custody dispute. If your grandchild lives with only one parent, and the other parent has never initiated court proceedings to get custody, you would not have adequate grounds to ask for visits.

Once you demonstrate an existing custody dispute or lack of an intact family, you have the "burden of proof" (the duty to provide sufficient evidence) to show that visitation is in the child's best interest, considering the child's health, safety, and general welfare. The court will consider any relevant evidence to make this determination.

Are My Visitation Rights Terminated If My Grandchild Is Adopted by Another Family?

A biological grandparent can ask for visitation if they have a substantial relationship with their grandchild and a surviving parent's new spouse adopts the child. These rights are transferred to the adoptive grandparents if anyone other than a stepparent adopts the child.

If a stepparent or other relative adopts your grandchild, you can exercise your right to request visitation if you can establish an existing relationship. If the adoptive parent has interfered with your relationship, you can present evidence of a relationship prior to the child's adoption.

Can I ask for Custody of My Grandchild?

North Carolina courts automatically presume that custody with the natural or legal parents is in a child's best interest, considering the child's health, safety, and welfare. Grandparents, however, can ask for custody if they show the parents have abused, neglected, or abandoned their children by failing to:

  • provide safe housing
  • contribute to child support
  • participate in their upbringing, or
  • protect them from harm.

Simply demonstrating the ability to provide a higher standard of living or alternate parenting style is not enough to overcome the "presumption" (legal assumption) given to natural parents.

How do I Start the Process?

You can request visitation by filing a "petition," (formal written request) in the district court for the county where your grandchild lives. If you already have a grandparent visitation order, but you want more time—or the child's parent is preventing you from visiting—you can ask the court to enforce the order or "modify" (change) it based on a change of circumstances.

If you have questions, you should speak to a local, experienced family law attorney, who can help you navigate this process.

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