Two provisions make visitation difficult for grandparents to obtain in North Carolina. First, a suit may be entered only in connection with a custody suit, not in an independent action. Second, North Carolina's definition of an intact family is broader than the usual definition.
Because grandparents in North Carolina cannot file an independent action for visitation, some grandparents seek visitation rights as a part of a grandchild's custody case even if they are not being denied contact. They consider it insurance for the future. Doing so is even more advisable considering the state's definition of an intact family. Under North Carolina law, single-parent homes can be considered intact. In most other states, intact families are those in which the parents are married or living together. The status of an intact family gives extra protection from suits. For example, if Johnny's parents are divorced and his grandparents see him when he visits his father, if his father dies, the grandparents could be cut off with no legal recourse, because the surviving parent is considered an intact family.
If something changes in a family's circumstances, necessitating that the custody issue be reopened, a grandparent can enter a plea for visitation rights at that time.North Carolina is one of the few states to provide for virtual visitation. Such visitation is suggested as a supplement to, not a replacement for, face-to-face time, but it could be a boon to a long-distance grandparent.
Visitation can be granted after adoption if the adopting party is a a stepparent or relative and if a "substantial relationship" exists between grandparent and grandchild.
General provisions about child custody and visitation are contained in North Carolina General Statutes, Section 50-13.2. The statute about visitation of an adopted grandchild is contained in Section 50-13.2A.
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