Ideally, every child would be raised by loving and responsible parents. But unfortunately, we all know that sometimes this is not the case. When the parents of a child are abusive or neglectful, a grandparent may be able to step in. Although it can be a difficult process, grandparents can get custody of their grandchildren in North Carolina in certain situations.
When the grandparent is like a parent.
Sometimes parents step out of a child’s life and leave them to be raised by grandparents. Maybe the parent was not ready, the child was unwanted, or other factors like drugs and alcohol make the parent unable to care for the child. The child may end up living with the grandparent for years. The grandparent provides food, shelter, emotional support, discipline, and schooling, just like a parent.
But what happens if the biological parent wants their child back? North Carolina law provides that if a non-parent has a parent-like relationship with the child, they may be able to get custody. The fact that the parent abandoned the child shows that they are not fit. They willingly gave up their parental rights. The fact that the grandparent raised the child shows that they have a strong bond. It would hurt the child to remove them from their grandparents.
Whether or not the grandparent gets custody will vary from case to case. If the parent financially provided for the child and was actively involved in the child’s life, even though they were living with the grandparents, the parent may be able to get custody. But if the parent only saw the children once or twice a year and was not involved, the grandparents may get custody.
When the parents are unfit.
If grandparents are trying to get custody of grandchildren, it is most likely because they believe the children are not safe with their parents. This could be because the parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. It could be because the parents have abused the children. Maybe the parents often leave the children alone and neglect their physical and emotional needs.
When the parents are unfit, a non-parent with a biological or adoptive relationship to the child may be able to get custody. This could be an aunt, uncle, sibling, or grandparent.
To get custody, the relative needs to provide evidence showing that the parents are unfit. This can be a huge hurdle. If the relative has a hunch that things are not right, but no proof, they will be unable to get custody. Evidence that may help could be:
- The parents’ criminal records.
- Testimony from a social worker who has visited the home and knows the situation well.
- Medical records showing that the child has been abused.
- Testimony from people who can provide a firsthand account of abuse or neglect.
North Carolina gives biological parents (or parents who have legally adopted a child, who are considered the same as biological parents) the right to parent their own children. Parents also have constitutional rights to the care and control of their children. The state will only take that right away under extreme circumstances. For instance, even if the parent has a drinking problem, they may be allowed to keep the children as long as it doesn’t interfere with their parenting. Things like moving frequently, occasionally getting frustrated with the children, or having a variety of sexual partners may seem objectionable to the grandparents. But, unless these things have a severe negative impact on the children, the parents will probably be allowed to keep them.
Intervening in a case.
North Carolina law allows grandparents to file a new case for custody if the parents are unfit. But if there is already a custody case between the parents, the grandparents need to intervene in that case. To intervene, the grandparents need to show that they have a substantial relationship with the children and that the parents are unfit.
Obtaining custody of grandchildren is a complicated and sensitive matter. Working with an attorney can help grandparents navigate through this complex situation.