Many people who are going through a divorce contend with difficult questions about child custody and visitation. In North Carolina, those questions are entirely related to the nuclear family – that is, the adults in the family and their children. North Carolina courts do not formally recognize grandparent custody or visitation rights and usually do not consider grandparents’ rights unless there is compelling evidence that a child’s parents are unfit.
However, there are instances in which grandparents’ rights claims may be considered. For example, that could happen if there are custody issues involving other non-parents or if a grandparent can prove that the parents have violated their obligations to their child.
The North Carolina legislature has considered the issue of grandparents’ rights but thus far has made no changes to state statutes that would give them greater access to their grandchildren.
It is important for parents to consider whether it is wise to cut children off from their grandparents during the turmoil of divorce. In some divorces, such as those involving domestic violence, the question of visitation with grandparents may be a non-issue. But in less antagonistic cases, a grandparent may provide stability for a child during a tumultuous time.
Similarly, grandparents need to consider whether it is beneficial to consult a divorce lawyer to pursue a grandparents’ rights claim. Because North Carolina courts generally do not favor grandparents, they could do more harm than good for themselves if they petition for custody or visitation and are denied. Parents may become angry and strike back by restricting contact with their grandchildren even more, making the whole process in vain.