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Do Grandparents Have Custody Rights in North Carolina?

Stable and supportive environments are crucial to a child’s health and well-being. Having healthy relationships with their primary caregivers is also vital, as these relationships impact every part of their development.1 Grandparents often have established relationships with their grandchildren and volunteer to help with the many demands of raising a child. However, what happens when a parent cannot provide a child with an appropriate environment or relationship to develop and thrive? Third parties, like grandparents, may be able to step in to take over the biological parents’ role in supporting these children.  

Grandparents’ Custody Rights in North Carolina 

Either biological parent can file for custody of a child in North Carolina, but third parties can also file for custody or visitation under certain circumstances. Third parties can include grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult siblings, or anyone else who has cared for the child.2 A court will award custody and visitation rights to grandparents at its discretion,3 but grandparents seeking custody of their grandchild must prove that both parents are unfit or have not fulfilled their rights as a parent.   

Drum v. Drum in Catawba County 

In the case of Drum v. Drum,4 the child’s maternal grandmother filed for custody and named the biological mother and father as defendants. Grandmother had been taking care of the child since the girl was around seven months old. Prior to Grandmother filing for custody, Child Protective Services (CPS) investigated the child’s mother for substance abuse issues. Father did not step in to care for the child at that time and testified in the custody hearing that he knew the child was being taken care of because she lived with Grandmother.  

Shortly after the CPS investigation, Grandmother filed for custody. She was granted immediate temporary custody of her grandchild that same day through an ex parte order. The trial court ultimately awarded primary physical custody to Grandmother with visitation to Father and joint legal custody between them. Mother’s visitation was prohibited. Father appealed the decision.  

In his appeal, Father claimed Grandmother did not have standing to seek custody. However, Grandmother had been caring for the child since she was around seven months old. Grandmother had been the primary caregiver and had provided stability and structure for the child, which gave her standing in a custody case. In addition, Father had never sought custody or had overnight visits with his daughter until after Grandmother’s claim was filed. He also owed a significant amount of child support, having paid only about half of what was ordered. Thus, the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant primary physical custody to Grandmother. 

The Woodruff Family Law Group is made up of Greensboro divorce lawyers with extensive experience in all types of custody and visitation matters. If you are seeking custody of your grandchild, contact us to schedule a consultation.