Grandparents’ Custody Rights in North Carolina

North Carolina grandparents' rights in child custody cases

In many families, the grandparents are like a second set of parents who are close to their grandchildren and play significant roles in their lives. But separation and divorce can force grandparents away from their grandchildren. This leads some grandparents to consider legal action to assert their rights to spend time with their grandchildren. If a child’s parents are demonstrably unfit, grandparents may seek custody of underage grandchildren.

Grandparents should choose the right family law attorney before pursuing a grandparents’ rights claim in North Carolina. Because North Carolina courts generally do not favor grandparents, a petition for custody or visitation that is denied could do more harm than good. The child’s parents may become angry and restrict contact with the grandchildren even more, making the whole process detrimental to the grandparents’ intentions.

Attorney Charles R. Ullman is a North Carolina State Bar-certified Family Law Specialist and has helped many parents and grandparents throughout Wake County resolve child visitation and custody issues. The attorneys at Charles R. Ullman & Associates have the skill and experience to help you seek thoughtful solutions to family law issues.

Call today or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation about grandparents’ rights in North Carolina. Our office is located in the historic Wyatt House in downtown Raleigh. We serve clients throughout Wake County.

Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in North Carolina

Grandparents of children in North Carolina generally do not have the legal right to visitation with their grandchildren without the parents’ approval. North Carolina has consistently placed the desires of the nuclear family – parents and their children – above grandparents’ requests for visitation. 

Grandparents may file a motion to intervene in a child custody dispute and petition the court to allow them access to their grandchildren. To be successful, the petitioning grandparent must provide the court with compelling evidence that a visitation schedule is in the best interest of the children.

North Carolina law (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.2(b1)) gives the courts authority to “provide visitation rights for any grandparent of the child as the court deems appropriate” as a provision of a child custody order. If a child custody order is already in place and a petition to modify the order is filed, “the grandparents of the child are entitled to such custody or visitation rights as the court, in its discretion, deems appropriate.” (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.5(j))

After a divorce or the death of a parent, a biological grandparent may seek visitation rights with a child adopted by a stepparent or another relative of the child “if a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child.” (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.2A)

If granted, visitation rights would allow the grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren. The court order may spell out specific times and locations for visits and may specify permission for in-person visits and communication via phone, texts, social media, email, greeting cards, or letters.

To obtain visitation rights, grandparents need to present evidence to the court of a longstanding relationship with the grandchild and how allowing visitation would serve the best interests of the child. When considering how a visitation schedule meets a child’s best interests, a judge might weigh such factors as:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s physical, emotional, and social growth and well-being
  • Length and strength of the child’s relationship with the grandparents 
  • Schedules (for both the child and the grandparents)
  • Distance between households

Grandparents are not allowed visitation rights regarding children taken away from unfit parents or given up for adoption. North Carolina law says, “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.”

How To Obtain Custody of Grandchildren in North Carolina

Technically, any parent, relative, or other person claiming the right to custody of a minor child may institute a custody action, according to state law (N.C. Gen. Stat. §50-13.1(a)).

When the parents of underage children die, one set of grandparents is often able to adopt their grandchildren. But the courts are not quick to take children away from the biological parents, who have a constitutional right to the care, custody, and control of their minor children.

Grandparents who petition for custody of their grandchildren will need to show the court that the children’s living parents are unfit or that they consistently fail to fulfill their obligations to their child.

This typically requires evidence of one or more of the following:

  • Abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Mental instability or illness
  • Inability to care for the child financially
  • Drug abuse
  • Having the child in a dangerous place

If the court accepts the grandparents’ petition for custody, it will then consider what would be in the child’s best interests.

A judge would consider the grandparents’:

  • Economic situation
  • Physical and mental health
  • Emotional, moral, and spiritual well-being
  • Availability to the child
  • Caretaking ability
  • Home environment
  • Length and strength of relationship with the child

A judge may also ask older children about their preferences, particularly if multiple parties are seeking to take them in.

How a North Carolina Child Custody Lawyer Can Help

If you have been refused visitation with your grandchild(ren) or need help obtaining custody of them, our Raleigh, NC, child custody lawyers can help you file the necessary paperwork and make your case in a North Carolina family law court. The child custody lawyers of Charles R. Ullman & Associates are dedicated to helping to negotiate child custody arrangements that meet the best interest of the children and adults involved.

In visitation cases, we can file a Motion of Intervention to allow you to join proceedings to establish or modify an existing custody order. If you are seeking full custody of your grandchildren, we can help you file a petition and prepare for a courtroom hearing where we will represent you.

We can help you gather the evidence necessary to demonstrate to the court that you will protect and promote the best interests of your grandchildren. We have experience gathering and presenting evidence that directly addresses the factors that a court will analyze to determine the child’s custody.

If you believe your presence in your grandchildren’s lives is in their best interests and are seeking time with them or full custody of your grandchildren, we urge you to contact us as soon as possible. We can explain your options more fully and help you make an informed decision as to the proper course of action for maintaining a close relationship with your grandchildren, even after their parents’ divorce.

Contact an Experienced N.C. Child Custody Attorney About Grandparents’ Rights

If you have come to an impasse and need legal assistance to reestablish contact with your grandchildren, speak to an experienced family law attorney about grandparents’ rights in North Carolina. The Raleigh child custody lawyers of Charles R. Ullman & Associates can help you file for visitation rights in an ongoing custody dispute and/or can advocate on your behalf if it’s in your grandchild’s best interests for you to seek custody of them.

We are compassionate family law attorneys who are dedicated to seeking visitation and child custody arrangements that meet the needs of children and the adults who will parent them best. Call us today or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.