By Jim Warren
When spouses with children decide to end their marriage, there are many decisions to be made and often many emotions come into play. Often, grandparents find themselves on the outside looking in, unaware of any options they may have currently or may have relinquished due to inaction. It’s a shame when loving grandparents no longer have access to their grandchildren due to acrimony or some other factor between their child and that child’s former spouse.
If you are a grandparent of children of a marriage that’s ending, it’s important to know that you have limited rights and a limited window to protect those rights in many cases. However, if properly pursued by grandparents, courts can have the opportunity to consider the positive role that grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren when making decisions about the children’s custody and visitation during separation and divorce.
Grandparents have the right to pursue custody under the law in the state of North Carolina. However, in order for a grandparent or any third party to prevail against a natural parent, they must show by the greater weight of the evidence that the natural parent(s) has acted in a manner contravening their constitutionally protected right as a parent(s). Occasionally grandparents do need to pursue custody of their grandchildren. However, in many cases grandparents are not seeking custody of their grandchildren but attempting to protect their right to be a part of the lives of those grandchildren. For instance, there may be some instances where for whatever reason they do not get along with their child and he or she may not want them to have contact with grandchildren that they have seen on a regular basis previously. Another possibility is that their child is not going to be able to exercise visitation with the children at issue and the grandparents do not want to lose contact with those children.
In the state of North Carolina if grandparents want to have visitation with their grandchildren, they must file a motion to intervene in a pending custody case. “Pending” means a case currently in court between the mother and father in which a final order of custody and/or visitation has not been entered. This is the limited window of opportunity the grandparents have to become involved in the lawsuit. They cannot file a motion to intervene after a final order has been entered. They cannot file an action for visitation with grandchildren if no action is pending between the parents.
If a motion to intervene is timely filed it is up to the judge to decide whether or not grandparents will be allowed to intervene in the action to pursue their visitation rights. This request is most often granted by our courts and then it will be up to the presiding judge to decide what visitation the grandparents are going to be able to have with their grandchildren. The important thing is that once they are allowed to intervene they cannot be totally cut out.
The bottom line here is that if you’re a grandparent to children who are going through the divorce of their parents—and you have reason to doubt that your connection to the children will be maintained—it’s important that you take action immediately. At Warren Family Law, we take great pride in helping to keep extended families together, especially grandparents and their grandchildren, in the event of separation and divorce. Give us a call to know your options and get the peace of mind you deserve.
If you’re a grandparent with only the best interests of your grandchildren in mind, it’s very important to contact us early so you can have an informed decision on what to do next in order to maintain your close relationship with your grandchildren even after their parents’ divorce.