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Family law attorneys are seeing an increasing number of grandparents seeking visitation and custody with their grandchildren through the court system. Grandparents’ concerns have been heightened by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that strengthened the rights of parents. In that case, a Washington state judge had awarded the parents of the deceased father regular weekend visits with their grandchildren. The Supreme Court overruled that decision and stated that under the Constitution, a state cannot be permitted to infringe on the fundamental rights of the parents to make child-rearing decisions.
There is a strong presumption that a fit parent will act in the best interests of his or her child, and that includes making decisions about the degree of contact a child may have with anyone, including a grandparent. However, this presumption can be overcome in cases involving abuse, neglect, unfitness, or where a parent has acted inconsistently with his or her parental obligation. A judge must respect the parents’ fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control over their children; at the same time, a judge’s decision must reflect what is in the best interest of the child. In North Carolina, there are four statutes that allow a grandparent to file an action for custody or visitation:
An important factor in either custody or visitation cases involving grandparents is the grandparents’ level of involvement with their grandchildren, both before and after a divorce. Custody disputes can be traumatic for children who are put the in the middle of a chaotic battle between their parents. Often, grandparents provide the stable nurturing children need as they learn to adjust to their parents living in separate households. This is especially true when the grandparents have had an ongoing close relationship with their grandchildren. Under the law, however, the presumption in favor or parental rights is strong and the courts will interfere with that right only in limited circumstances. Grandparents who have strong relationships with their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s parents are more likely to continue having access to their grandchildren and to be a continuing influence in their lives.
John Narron is a senior partner in the firm and head of the firm’s Family Law practice. He is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist and has been practicing law in North Carolina since 1977, with a practice concentration in all manner of civil disputes that frequently involve complex equitable distribution proceedings, alimony trials, will caveats, employment disputes, personal injury trials and negotiations, and a wide variety of commercial business disputes. John has served as mediator in more than 200 family law disputes in Wake County, Franklin County, Johnston County, Wayne County, Guilford County, Forsyth County, and Pender County....LEARN MORE
Rose Stout is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. She concentrates her practice in the area of domestic law and represents clients in all aspects of family law, including divorce, custody, equitable distribution, child support and alimony. Rose has extensive trial experience at the district court level and has spoken at family law seminars on various family law issues....LEARN MORE