Of the 69.3 million children in the U.S. in 1990, 5 percent
(3.2 million) were living in their grandparents' home. Of these
3.2 million, almost 1 million (935,000) were being cared for
solely by a grandparent, with no parent present.
Grandparents’ rights are an emerging issue in family law
throughout the country, and in the state of North Carolina. The
bonds between children and their grandparents are special.
Unfortunately, these relationships are often one of the first
casualties of divorce. When child custody and child visitation is
finalized, grandmothers and grandfathers (on the non-custodial
parents’ side) often lose contact with their grandchildren
through no fault of their own.
More and more grandparents are being asked to play a role in
supporting their children and grandchildren. The rising rate of
divorce and separation as well as social problems like drug
addiction and alcoholism have literally orphaned many children.
Grandparents have stepped in to help fill this void and to provide
much needed care and nurturing for their grandchildren.
The main issue is the question of what legal rights
grandparents have to visit their grandchildren following a divorce
or separation. The state of North Carolina permits grandparents to
litigate visitation rights when parents divorce, even on the
objections of both parents. It also permits the litigation of
collateral issues arising from the existence of grandparents’
visitation rights, including using such rights as a “factor”
to order a change of residence of the child or providing for the
resolution of additional child support issues relating to the
States are currently grappling with how to set up guidelines to
constitutionally allow visitation to grandparents of children from
broken homes, including here in North Carolina.
When the courts are determining the extent of grandparents’
rights, they typically consider:
- The relationship between the parents and grandparents. Is this a healthy relationship that is in the child’s best interest?
- The relationship between the grandparents and
children. Have they spent time together in the past, or is
this a new request?
In North Carolina, a grandparent can request reasonable
visitation rights in dissolution, separation, or nullity
proceedings involving the parents of the minor child. In order to
get visitation rights grandparents must file a petition during the
proceedings described above. In addition, a grandparent who
requests visitation must participate in mediation proceedings.
This is a process where a mediator tries to work out a visitation
agreement that satisfies all parties and takes as its primary
consideration the best interests of the child.
Based on the closeness and longevity of the relationship, and
barring any abusive history, it is possible for grandparents to
remain a part of their grandkids’ lives for years to come.
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