Only the very best parents get promoted to Grandparents! Becoming a Grandparent is every parent’s dream, and most often a monumental time during one’s life. The Golden Age is aptly named for that time during which an individual becomes a Grandparent. Being a Grandparent means baby snuggles, toddler kisses, and adolescent adoration, all without the fuss of raising the child. All of the benefit and little to none of the burden. What could be better?!
But what happens when family strife hits? Do Grandparents have any rights? Especially when it comes to their grand-babies? The answer is no, yes, and maybe.
Unfortunately, Grandparent’s do not have a right to see or visit with their grandchildren when the family unit is intact. Under North Carolina case law, parents have the right to choose whom their child[ren] interact[s] with (a right of association guaranteed under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution). Grandparents cannot force the parents to allow them to see or spend time with their grandchildren when the children are part of a cohesive family lifestyle. Essentially when the parents of the child are married, or together, Grandparents cannot petition a court or sue for visitation. Many Grandparent’s call it their “right” to see their grand-babies, but as sad as it is this “right” just does not exist.
However, if a family unit is no longer intact and one, or both, of the parents, is ‘unfit’ to raise the minor child[ren] then a Grandparent has a right to sue or petition for custody of the minor child[ren]. A family unit may become damaged by divorce, separation, or even incarceration, which results in the breaking of the family unit. When a family becomes divided (whether by divorce or separation), the child[ren] often become divided as well, spending some of their time with mom and some of their time with dad. However, if mom or dad is ‘unfit’ to raise the child, Grandma or Grandpa may petition or sue for custody of the minor child. Although the burden for ‘unfitness’ is a tough one to meet, Grandparent’s most definitely have a right to sue for custody when it is met.
But what if both parents are fit, wonderful, loving parents? Then the situation becomes a bit more sticky. Grandparents may have a right to sue or petition for visitation of their grandchildren when an intact family unit becomes divided. There are certain hurdles a Grandparent would have to overcome in order to gain visitation rights. Examples include their strong connection with the grandchild, frequency of visits before familial strife, and how their visits would promote the well-being of the child. It is important to note that in this instance, there must be an on-going custody matter between the parents.
In summation, Grandparent’s do have rights, albeit few, which depend upon the familial situation between the parent and child. If you have any questions about Grandparent’s rights give our office a call today to set up a consultation!