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Grandparents' Visitation Rights in North Carolina: Understanding the Legal Landscape

Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in North Carolina: Understanding the Legal Landscape

July 11, 2023 Kristin H. Ruth

When it comes to the grandparent-grandchild relationship, many questions arise regarding visitation rights. In North Carolina, the extent of visitation, the ability to sue for visitation, and grandparents’ rights are common topics of interest. Let’s explore these questions and shed light on the grandparents’ visitation rights in North Carolina.

Throughout history, grandparents have played a crucial role in providing their grandchildren with a sense of identity and a connection to the past. They pass on wisdom through their own life experiences and take on the role of the ultimate caregiver. They pass on traditions in the hope that they will endure while also embracing new family traditions. However, what happens to this special grandparent-grandchild relationship when it is torn apart not due to a lack of love or concern from the grandparents but because of the separation and divorce of the parents?

Do Grandparents Have Rights in North Carolina?

While North Carolina does recognize the importance of the grandparent-grandchild relationship, the state’s laws regarding grandparents’ rights are less expansive than those in some other jurisdictions. In North Carolina, no statutory provisions expressly grant grandparents automatic visitation rights. Instead, the courts decide on visitation matters based on the best interest and welfare of the child. Grandparents must present compelling evidence to demonstrate the necessity of visitation for the child’s well-being.

The Polar Star
In the legal context, the term “polar star” refers to the standard that courts must adhere to when determining what is in a minor child’s best interest and welfare. The courts base their decisions on this paramount consideration, striving never to lose sight of the brightest star guiding their judgments.

Can Grandparents Sue for Visitation?

When grandparents face the heartbreaking situation of being denied access to their grandchild due to ongoing custody disputes between the parents, they can sue for visitation rights by filing a Motion to Intervene. This legal action allows grandparents to present evidence of their loving and substantial relationship with their grandchild and involvement in the ongoing custody lawsuit. It is important to note that the motion to intervene must be filed in a timely manner. Once the court has made a custody decision or if the matter has been resolved through other means, the opportunity to intervene and become a third party in the lawsuit is no longer available.

After filing a motion to intervene and hearing from all parties involved, the court will decide whether to allow grandparents to become a third party in the lawsuit for the purpose of seeking visitation rights. Grandparents should hire their own attorney to advocate for their visitation rights and avoid any appearance of conflict with either parent.

It is important to note that the threshold for grandparents to obtain visitation rights is relatively high. North Carolina law requires grandparents to show that the denial of visitation would significantly harm the child’s overall well-being. This burden of proof places a considerable responsibility on grandparents to demonstrate that visitation is necessary and, in the child’s best interest.

Without a lawsuit being filed, or if the family is living together without any legal proceedings, grandparents have no avenue to intervene. In North Carolina, the laws regarding grandparent visitation rights are relatively limited. Generally, the courts prioritize the rights of parents to make decisions regarding their child’s upbringing, including visitation.

How Much Visitation Can Grandparents Get?

In North Carolina, the amount of visitation granted to grandparents varies case by case, depending on the specific circumstances and the court’s determination of what is in the child’s best interest.

Presenting Evidence of a Substantial Relationship
If grandparents are estranged from both parents, presenting evidence to the court demonstrating their substantial relationship with their grandchild or grandchildren becomes crucial. They need to show that without the court’s intervention and granting them their own custodial time, they may never be able to visit their grandchild or grandchildren.

When disputes arise between biological parents and a lawsuit is filed, grandparents have a limited window of opportunity to “reach for the polar star” by seeking visitation rights and maintaining a substantial relationship with their grandchild or grandchildren.


Grandparents in North Carolina can seek visitation rights if it is in the child’s best interest. While the laws are less explicit than in some states, grandparents can still pursue visitation through the court system. Grandparents must gather sufficient evidence, establish a substantial relationship with the grandchild, and demonstrate the positive impact of visitation on the child’s welfare. Understanding the legal landscape and working with an experienced family law attorney can greatly help grandparents navigate the complexities of seeking visitation rights in North Carolina.

Note: While there are other limited options available for grandparents, this article focuses specifically on visitation rights, not custodial rights. For more information on who can initiate a custody action, please refer to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.1.

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