In some cases, grandparents may need to seek legal assistance to secure their right to visitation, or changes in a family’s circumstances may necessitate seeking custody or adoption of the grandchild/grandchildren by the grandparents.
Grandparents’ Rights in North Carolina
Previously, the right to visitation only applied to a child’s parents. Today, however, there are laws in place that govern the visitation and custody rights of grandparents.
In North Carolina, grandparents can request visitation with a grandchild in connection with an existing custody suit when the family unit of the grandchild is no longer “intact” and has been disrupted in some way. North Carolina has a broad definition of an “intact family,” making grandparent visitation suits challenging. Grandparents may request to “intervene” in the parents’ custody lawsuit and request visitation with the grandchild. The court will then determine whether it is in the child’s best interests to include grandparent visitation in a custody order.
Additionally, grandparents (like any third party with a substantial relationship with a child) may bring an independent lawsuit to request custody of a grandchild when the parents of the child are unfit or have otherwise acted contrary to their protected status as the child’s parents.
North Carolina law also provides rights to grandparents whose grandchild has been adopted by a relative or stepparent.
Adoption by Grandparents in North Carolina
Grandparents may have the option to file a petition to adopt their grandchild and often do so when the grandchild is anticipated to be in their care long term. The parental rights of the child’s parents must be resolved either by the parent(s) consenting to the adoption or the court terminating the parent(s)’ parental rights, so you should consult an attorney to assist you in obtaining the necessary consents or filing a petition for the termination of parental rights.
In an adoption by a grandparent, there is no requirement for a pre-placement assessment (previously called a homestudy), but there must be a post-placement assessment and report to the court, typically done by the county Division of Social Services, to recommend that the adoption be finalized.