Grandparent and Step Parent Rights to Custody and Visitation

This section will first discuss when grandparents have custodial rights, and secondarily, when other third parties should as step parents or live in companions have rights.

In North Carolina, grandparents have rights under two circumstances:

The first circumstance is if the two natural parents are both unfit (or otherwise cannot take care of a minor child, such as the parent is deceased, seriously disabled, or dead). The grandparents have the right to bring the unfit conduct (or the absence of the ability to take care of the child) to the court's attention and ask that the grandparent be given custody. The court has to find that the parents have both abrogated their constitutional rights under the Parental Rights Doctrine because of the unfit conduct. The Parental Rights Doctrine is a concept under the US Supreme Court citing parents generally have the paramount natural right to rear their children. The conduct does not have to be serious enough to terminate the parental rights of the parents.

A typical example of unfitness would be drug addicted parents.

The second area of rights for grandparents arises when the natural parents are in a custody dispute with the North Carolina Courts. Perhaps the grandparents are being denied time with their grandchildren.

Grandparents can file a motion for visitation if:

  • There is an ongoing custody case between the natural parents
  • The grandparent has a substantial relationship with the child
    • You might illustrate your substantial relationship with your grandchildren by your beautiful pictures and photo albums

Now, we will move on to step parent or other third party rights.

The first question is generally going to be whether the step parent or other third party has standing to ask for custodial rights. Standing is a complex legal question and should be discussed thoroughly with your attorney regarding your particular case. The key question will be whether the third party and the child have an established parent child relationship, and this will be decided on a factual case by case basis, as illustrated in the case of Ellison v. Ramos, 130 NC App. 389, 502 W>E>2d 891 (1998).

In Ellison, the natural father and the live-in girlfriend companion “parented” the child. The biological mother was medically comatose, so the father was the only biological parent available for parenting. The father and girlfriend broke up, and the girlfriend asked for custody. The trial court dismissed the case because the girlfriend did not have standing. Whoa! The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed stating that the trial court had to look at the case on a factual case by case basis. The girlfriend’s position was that she was the one handling all of the custodial duties for five years. She also alleged that she was the one handling the minor child’s specialized medical needs. The Court of Appeals indicated that if girlfriend could prove she had been the “parent” for five years, the court could reach the best interests test regarding whether the child could be placed with the girlfriend.

North Carolina Divorce Lawyers Blog - Grandparent Custody
Client Reviews

The team at the Woodruff Family Law Group works in full synchronization. Even during our first meeting, Carolyn Woodruff listened intently to our situation and took action to verify what we couldn’t. While we met and talked with her, she instructed her team members to verify petitions filed in other states and other facts of our case, and even contacted our attorney out of state. She was precisely clear of what she needed to know, and in what seemed like no time, her assistants were swiftly providing her additional information as she requested it. In our first hour, she not only fully understood our case, but had verified facts, and was making insightful suggestions on how to proceed. Carolyn Woodruff does more in one hour than legal teams we have worked with do in days. She is not only an incredible value due to her efficiency, but, as the results of our case will affect the rest of many of our loved ones lives, she is the best investment in our future that we could make.

To provide the best legal representation, an attorney needs to be knowledgeable, caring, and above all, respected – both by those who agree with her, and oppose her. Carolyn Woodruff earns and commands respect because it is who she is and what she is committed to. We can’t possibly recommend her highly enough.

★★★★★
Contact Us
Contact Us: 336.272.9122
Please read the disclaimer below before sending a message to Woodruff Family Law Group.

Any information that you send us should not be confidential or otherwise sensitive information. Sending us an e-mail message does not establish an attorney/client relationship. We cannot provide representation until we have had an opportunity to evaluate your case, including but not limited to an evaluation of whether we are in a conflict position to represent you. The information you send to us in an e-mail should not be information for which you would have an expectation of confidentiality.
I have read the disclaimer*