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Do grandparents have visitation rights?

The relationship between a grandparent and grandchild is often a special one. Therefore, many grandparents might become concerned about seeing their grandchildren when they hear about their child’s divorce.

That might leave many grandparents wondering: do they have visitation rights under North Carolina law?

Grandparents may be able to get visitation, but it is often not necessary

North Carolina does not have a specific law that determines grandparent’s rights, but that should not be a cause for alarm. There is a provision in the state child custody law that allows grandparents to have visitation rights under a few conditions:

  1. If it is included in the custody order of a minor child; and
  2. If family courts determine that establishing visitation is appropriate.

Therefore, a grandparent’s visitation rights essentially depend on the family’s circumstances. For example, if the divorce is amicable, grandparents might have nothing to worry about. After all, it is often in the child’s best interests for their parents to encourage the relationships that children have with extended family members, such as grandparents.

What if grandparents do pursue visitation?

In extreme cases where grandparents genuinely fear they will not see their grandchildren, or if they have a reason to worry about their grandchild’s health or safety, then they might consider obtaining visitation rights. However, it is important to note that getting visitation might be challenging.

Grandparents should be aware of the challenges, including, but not limited to:

  • Grandparents can only seek visitation rights when the custody case or negotiation is occurring, they cannot file an independent action;
  • They must prove they have the standing to obtain visitation. First, they must prove they are the biological grandparent, and they must establish they have a significant relationship with their grandchild; and
  • Seeking visitation could potentially strain an already stressful and emotional situation for the whole family.

Grandparents should carefully consider their options before seeking visitation rights in the custody order. It might be helpful for them to speak with their children about planning time for visits long before they debate taking legal action.