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Does a Single Parent Count as an Intact Family in North Carolina?

The topic of an intact family may come up in some North Carolina custody and visitation cases. Why does this matter? The intact family factor is not relevant to every case, but it is pivotal when a non-parent seeks custody or visitation. The 1995 case of McIntyre v. McIntyre established that, with the exception of cases of negligence or unfitness, third parties like grandparents can only seek visitation rights when the child’s family is not intact or there is an ongoing custody proceeding.

The decision in McIntyre was reinforced in Penland v. Harris.

Penland v. Harris

In the Penland case, the mother and child lived with the maternal grandparents for about six years while the mother obtained her nursing degree. The mother got married and moved out of the grandparents’ home with the child, and since that time the grandparents had only been allowed limited visitation and contact with the child.

The grandparents filed for joint custody of the child because they believed their involvement with the care and upbringing of the child to that point was the equivalent of a parental role. The mother filed a motion to dismiss the grandparents’ complaint, and the motion was granted by the trial court. The grandparents appealed.

One of the avenues by which a grandparent may file for custody or visitation of a child is when the child’s family is not intact. So, defining what an intact family looks like is crucial. A single mother or father who lives with their child satisfies the meaning of an intact family, and, Penland determined, a married natural parent, step-parent, and child living together also satisfies this requirement.

When is the Best Interest of the Child Considered?

If you thought that the child’s best interest was the only thing courts considered in custody and visitation cases, you aren’t entirely wrong. The child’s well-being and welfare are the priority. However, before the best interest analysis is applied in cases involving non-parents, the parent must be shown to have forfeited their constitutional right to care for and have custody of their child.

What satisfies this forfeiture requirement?

  • Parental unfitness
  • Abandonment
  • Neglect
  • Abuse
  • Voluntary forfeiture

What doesn’t satisfy this requirement, as stated in Penland:

  • Having a child out of wedlock
  • The non-parent offering a higher standard of living
  • Parental control over who the child spends time with

If you have questions about your North Carolina custody or visitation case, a Greensboro divorce lawyer can help you make sense of all the case law and statutory requirements.