According to PBS, 2.7 million grandparents are currently raising their grandchildren. Non-parents, such as grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, or other relatives, may wish to become a larger part of a child’s life after their parents go through divorce, a parent leaves, dies, goes to prison, becomes abusive, can no longer properly care for the child, or disappears. Grandparents and other third-party relatives, as well as non-relatives, are sometimes granted joint or even sole custody of children. However, this is usually somewhat rare and can be difficult to accomplish if you are up against the child’s biological parents or parents.
In the Best Interest of the Child
As with all child custody decisions, the court will always choose in favor of the child’s best interests. However, the court is often biased with its decision-making, usually believing that, by default, the child’s biological parent or parents are the best choice for custody. Yet, a grandparent or other relative may be awarded visitation or custody rights in some circumstances in which that non-parent has a substantial relationship with the child. According to North Carolina code of laws § 50-13.2, a grandparent is defined as “a biological grandparent of a child adopted by a stepparent or a relative of the child where a substantial relationship exists between the grandparent and the child.” There is obviously quite a bit of wiggle room in determining what a substantial relationship is with such an ambiguous definition, which is why it is vital to work with an experienced and highly competent attorney.