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Grandparents' Rights

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 grandparents’ visits.

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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Charles R. Ullman & Associates


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