If your child is facing a divorce, you might be wondering what that means for you and your grandchildren. The answer to that question is contextual—it’s affected by several factors, including your relationship with your children, your relationship with your grandchildren, and how quickly you pursue legal action. With that in mind, grandparents can usually seek visitation or custodial rights of their grandchildren for two reasons:
If either of these sounds like your situation, then there’s a possibility that you have legal standing to pursue legal custody or visitation rights. Let’s take a look at what this means for you.
Whether you want to gain custody of your grandchild or simply want to make sure you’ll have visitation rights will have a big impact on how you should proceed legally. While visitation is easier for grandparents to pursue in North Carolina, it can generally only be granted while the custody case is open. Once custody has been agreed upon and the case has been closed, you’ll no longer be able to seek visitation. On the other hand, custody can be sought both before and after custody has been granted. However, it is more difficult to gain custodial rights than it is to gain visitation privileges. You will need to be able to prove that the child is neglected or in a situation where their welfare is endangered.
North Carolina has four different statutes regarding whether a grandparent can seek legal custody or visitation privileges over a child.
“Any parent, relative, or other person, agency, organization or institution claiming the right to custody of a minor child may institute an action or proceeding for the custody of such child, as hereinafter provided.” Under this statute, you may be entitled to pursue legal custody over your grandchild if a judge finds their parents unfit in their position as parents. This statute is often relevant in cases where the parents aren’t able to adequately provide care for the child, or if the child has an established history of staying with the grandparent under the allowance of one or both of the parents.
“An order for custody of a minor child may provide visitation rights for any grandparent of the child as the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate. As used in this subsection, “grandparent” includes a biological grandparent of a child adopted by a stepparent or a relative of the child where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child.” If there is an open lawsuit in which one or both parents file for child custody, a grandparent can petition the court to intervene before a child custody order is issued by a judge. If this is granted, then the grandparent can become a party to the lawsuit and appeal to the judge for custodial or visitation privileges. This statute has time constraints, however. Once a judge issues a child custody order, you can no longer petition the court to intervene, making it important to seek legal aid immediately if you wish to become a party to the lawsuit.
“A biological grandparent may institute an action or proceeding for visitation rights with a child adopted by a stepparent or a relative of the child where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child. Under no circumstances shall a biological grandparent of a child adopted by adoptive parents, neither of whom is related to the child and where parental rights of both biological parents have been terminated, be entitled to visitation rights. A court may award visitation rights if it determines that visitation is in the best interest of the child.” If a child has been adopted by a relative or stepparent, the grandparent may have legal standing to seek custodial or visitation rights. In order to initiate these proceedings, the grandparent will have to be able to show that they have a substantial prior relationship with the child. However, if both of the biological parents have given up their legal rights as parents over the child and the child has been adopted by parents who aren’t related to the child, then the biological grandparents lose all rights to seek custodial or visitation privileges with the child in question.
“In any action in which the custody of a minor child has been determined, upon a motion in the cause and a showing of changed circumstances pursuant to G.S. 50-13.7, the grandparents of the child are entitled to such custody or visitation rights as the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate. As used in this subsection, “grandparent” includes a biological grandparent of a child adopted by a stepparent or a relative of the child where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child. Under no circumstances shall a biological grandparent of a child adopted by adoptive parents, neither of whom is related to the child and where parental rights of both biological parents have been terminated, be entitled to visitation rights.” In cases where custody has already been determined, this statute allows a grandparent or other involved party to petition the court for a modification of an existing child custody order or visitation. However, the party involved must be able to show that there has been a drastic change that could affect the welfare of the child since the existing child custody order has been issued.
When seeking custodial or visitation rights of a grandchild, time is of the essence. If you wait too long and a child custody order is issued, you may lose the opportunity to gain or maintain court protected visitation or custodial rights. Whether you want custodial or visitation privileges or you’re simply concerned about your rights as a grandparent, it’s important to work with legal aid who will help you achieve the best possible outcome for all parties involved. Our attorneys at Culbertson Law have over 60 years of collective experience in family law and civil litigation and will work with you to maintain your Constitutionally protected rights as a grandparent.
If you are looking to talk to an experienced North Carolina custody and visitation attorney then I encourage you to get in touch, you need a knowledgeable and supportive attorney to help you secure a favorable custody & visitation arrangement. Please contact Culbertson and Associates, located right in Greensboro, NC at (366) 272-4299 for sophisticated, experienced family law counsel.
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