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Grandparent Rights in North Carolina: McIntyre v. McIntyre

Divorce can affect many relationships, and it is not unusual for grandparents to lose contact with their grandchildren in the process. Are you are a grandparent seeking custody or visitation of your grandchildren? If so, we may be able to help. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our skilled North Carolina family law attorneys can meticulously analyze your facts and let you know your rights and options.

Under North Carolina law, grandparents can only seek custody and visitation with their minor grandchildren in certain circumstances. One such situation is if both the child’s parents are unfit (i.e., due to drug addiction, abuse, etc.) or unable to care for the child. An inability to care for the child may arise due to a serious disability or death. In such cases, the grandparents could report the parent’s unfit behavior or inability to care for the child to the court and request custody of the child.

North Carolina law allows a grandparent to intervene in an ongoing custody dispute and request visitation with a child. Grandparents cannot, however, seek visitation when their grandchildren are living in an intact family. In the case of McIntyre v. McIntyre, the paternal grandparents, whose son was deceased but had separated from his wife prior to his death, filed a claim for visitation with their minor granddaughter, who lived with her mother at the time. Since one parent was deceased, there was no custody action pending between the children’s parents.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled the grandparents did not have standing to seek visitation rights when the minor child was residing with an intact family, and there was no ongoing custody proceeding. The court held that a child living with one parent was enough to constitute an ‘intact’ family. If a grandparent is found to have standing to bring a claim for grandparent visitation, the court can award whatever visitation it deems appropriate.

Even if there is an ongoing custody case between the natural parents, the grandparent would still need to show that they have a substantial relationship with the child. The law does not define what a ‘substantial relationship’ is, but a grandparent will typically be able to establish it with photos and examples of time spent together in the past. If a grandchild has lived with the grandparents at any time, that would likely be enough to constitute a substantial relationship.

Grandparents can also seek visitation in any action in which the child is adopted by a stepparent or relative of a child if a substantial relationship existed between the grandparents and the child. In addition, if custody has already been decided, upon a motion and a showing of changed circumstances, grandparents may get custody or visitation based on what the court deems appropriate.

Issues involving grandparents and child custody can be tricky, which is why it is important to have a qualified North Carolina grandparent rights attorney on your side. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, we have the skill, dedication, and experience to handle your family law issues. You must act quickly so that you can maintain your close relationship with your grandchildren. Contact us online or call us at 336-272-9122.