Under North Carolina law, a grandparent’s ability to visit their grandchildren is typically at the discretion of the parents. If a parent denies grandparent visitation, a grandparent can only gain visitation rights by filing a parallel motion to get child custody—and proving that the parents are to unsuitable fulfill their parental duties. However, if the parents are deemed fit but refuse—for whatever reason—to allow the grandparents to have a relationship with their grandchildren, the grandparents have no legal recourse.
However, if House Bill 505 becomes law, grandparents could receive greater legal freedoms surrounding grandchildren visitation. Under this bill, grandparents would have the ability to file a court action for visitation rights without the requirement of a concurrent child custody action. In such situations, the grandparents would need to demonstrate to the court that the following three conditions are true:
- There is a valid reason to question the parents’ ability to determine the best interest of the child.
- The parent is dead, physically or mentally incapacitated or in jail.
- Grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the child.
In evaluating whether grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interest, the court would ask:
- Is the grandparent willing to foster a close relationship between the child and the child’s parents?
- Is the child willing to have a relationship with the grandparent? (only for children who are mature enough to answer such a question)
- Did the parent have a good reason for refusing grandparent visitation in the past?
- Have the grandparents and parents attempted any form of dispute resolution?
In addition to the above, the court may consider any other factors it deems relevant to the child’s best interest.
If House Bill 505 passes, it could create increased opportunities for grandparents in North Carolina to develop relationships with their grandchildren—even if they are estranged from their children.