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Visitation Issues Involving Grandparents and Other Third Parties, Part 1

Grandparents have standing to seek visitation with a minor child under North Carolina Law in certain limited circumstances.

A North Carolina Grandparent has no standing to seek visitation when children are living in an intact family - where there are no issues of separation or divorce and the child's parents are not unfit or have otherwise neglected the child.

Balancing Interests

Courts must weigh various interests and rights when ruling on third-party visitation petitions:

  • The child's interest in maintaining a connection with a grandparent who may be more important in the child's life than a biological parent.
  • The rights (if any) of the grandparent.
  • The rights of the parent(s).

In order for a non-parent to seek visitation, that non-parent must have standing: the legal right to seek a remedy from a court in a particular situation.

Standing

Under North Carolina law, grandparents have standing to seek visitation under three four statutory provisions:

Grandparents may seek visitation with a grandchild on the basis that the natural parents are unfit, have neglected the child's welfare, or have otherwise forfeited their rights to the exclusive control of their child through certain actions.

A grandparent may seek visitation when the child's parents are actively involved in a child custody lawsuit.  In these cases, a grandparent must file a motion to intervene while the case is still pending in order to preserve their rights to visitation.

In certain situation, adoptive grandparents may petition the court for visitation.

A grandparent may seek visitation as part of a child custody modification if the grandparents were previously awarded custodial or visitation rights by the court. 

Substantial Relationship

In order to ask the court for visitation with their grandchildren, a grandparent must show that a "substantial relationship" exists between themselves and their grandchild. The North Carolina statute does not define what a "substantial relationship" means with respect to grandparents. In most cases, a substantial relationship can be proven by showing that the grandparents have been meaningfully involved in the lives of their grandchildren.

This usually means that the grandparents have visited with the children on a frequent basis, have provided love and affection for their grandchildren and have formed a bond with the children. 

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