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What You Need to Know

  • North Carolina courts try to keep children with their parents whenever possible.
  • However, grandparents or stepparents may be able to gain custody if the parents aren’t willing or able to care for the child.
  • Hopeful guardians should hire an experienced, empathetic family law attorney for guidance through the custody process.

When a child needs a safe and nurturing place to live, deciding where that place is can be a challenging, emotional process. If the parent or parents aren’t the best people to care for the child, another person might step up and offer to take the child. Usually, this person is a stepparent or grandparent, but they could also be an aunt, uncle, older sibling, or another person who has a substantial relationship with the child.

However, the process of gaining child custody as a grandparent or stepparent is different than for a parent, and it’s often more complicated and challenging. Keep reading to learn more.

Grandparents and Stepparents Can Receive Custody, but They Must Take Extra Steps

The United States Supreme Court has determined that parents have a constitutionally protected right to the control of their children. North Carolina courts follow the Supreme Court’s broad direction, so whenever possible, judges try to keep parents and children together. However, there are three possible situations where a nonparent, third-party guardian (like a stepparent or grandparent) can receive custody because the parents have lost their protected status. Those situations are:

  • The biological parents have taken actions which are inconsistent with their protected status of a parent (for example, engaging in abuse or neglect)
  • The biological parents can’t care for the child
  • A court finds the biological parents unfit to have custody

Getting child custody as a nonparent can be extremely challenging, especially if a biological parent is a viable option. Courts anticipate the child having the strongest bond with their biological parents, so judges will not separate children from their immediate family unless there are very good reasons to do so.

If you or someone you love wants custody of a child in North Carolina, you must prove in court that the biological parent is incapable of caring for the child or that the parents have acted inconsistently with their protected status as a parent. In either situation, you’ll need an experienced family law attorney to help you build your case and fight for custody.

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What Will the Court Consider When Evaluating My Custody Petition?

North Carolina courts’ primary goal in custody cases is to protect the well-being of the child or children. When a judge evaluates a custody petition, the factors the judge will consider include:

  • The parent’s living situation
  • The parent’s ability to take care of the child
  • The state of the parent’s relationship with the child
  • The child’s wishes, depending on their age

How Are Custody Cases for Grandparents or Stepparents Different Than Cases Between Parents?

In a custody case between parents only, the court reaches a decision based strictly on the child’s best interests. But when a grandparent, stepparent, or any other non-parent attempts to seek custody, that person must first prove that the parents have acted inconsistently with their protected status as parents or that the parents are unfit. In these cases, the court must reach a decision based on “clear and convincing evidence,” which is a higher standard of proof than the normal standard in custody cases that involve parents only.

The result is that grandparents and other nonparents often face an uphill battle for custody, even if most people would consider them the best suited to care for the child. Because of the challenges involved, you should work with an experienced and dedicated family law attorney if you’re a grandparent or stepparent and want to petition for custody.

RELATED: 5 Child Custody Myths, Debunked

Contact Myers Law Firm if You Need Help With Child Custody in Charlotte, North Carolina

At Myers Law Firm, we know how important family is. That’s why we fight to protect families just like yours. If you’re fighting for custody of a child and you need help, contact us today. We can meet with you to answer your questions, help you understand your options, and create a plan for what comes next.

To schedule your initial consultation today, please call 1-888-376-ATTY (2889) or complete our quick online contact form.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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