Jeff spoke with Evonne Hopkins, a family law attorney with Hopkins Law Firm, located in Raleigh. They discussed an emerging issue in family law — grandparents rights.
Evonne often receives calls from grandparents who have raised their grandchild during some part of their lives, or after their child and grandchild have lived with them for a period of time. Unfortunately, some sort of dispute occurred between the two parties, resulting in the grandparents being unable to see their grandchild.
Do grandparents have visitation/custody rights?
There are ways through the court that can help grandparents have visitation, as well as primary or secondary custody. I often see a petition for access to the grandchild after they have had enough and want their child to leave their home. Often, they are conflicted because the grandchild is being used as a pawn. The grandparents will then explore their legal rights to ensure that the grandchild is in the best environment after having taken on the primary caretaker role.
How does this affect same sex relationships?
Under our state statues, almost any person can qualify for third party custody or visitation if they fit certain criteria. A person must be an active caretaker for the child and have played a significant role in that child’s life. Most of our third party cases involve same sex couples. Before same sex marriage was legal in North Carolina, there was a lot of debate about who was the legal parent and who had rights to the child, especially when both parents raised the child since birth. The law protects and allows them to come forward if they want time with the child. This also applies to aunts, former boyfriends, girlfriends, and sisters or brothers of the child – anyone who has become the defacto parent.
It is important to understand, however, that parents have a constitutional protected status. Therefore, a third party challenge has much higher standards than if two parents were feuding over custody. You have to overcome that constitutional burden. It can be done, but on a case by case basis.