Grandparents' Rights in Custody Cases

Many parents with limited job skills and resources may find themselves relying on their parents to help raise their children.  Other parents may have job or educational obligations that require them to be away from their children for long periods of time.  At what point is it that parents are considered to have abandoned their children, become unfit or violated their constitutionally protected status as a parent?  I think the key term to remember is the "constitutionally protected status," especially when what is in the "best interest of the child" does not coincide with the parents' constitutionally protected status.  For example, let say mom and dad have one child.  Mom is in the military and is on her fifth deployment, Dad is deceased, and paternal grandparents have been primarily raising the minor child to provide stablity while mom is away.  Over time Paternal grandparents and mom are not getting along.  Paternal grandparents learn that mom is being stationed in Germany, and she wants to take the child with her.  They come to an attorney seeking to get custody of the child since the child does not want to go to Germany, and they do not approve of mom's lifestyle of dating several men after their son's death.  Clearly there are many reasons why it would be in the child's best interest to remain in grandparents' custody: they have provided stability, familiarity and a close and loving relationship.  However, if mom has been providing financially for the child, and has a relationship with the child and bascially have not violated her "constitutionally protected status," I think the grandparents have no chance for custody in a contested hearing.  Additionally according to North Carolina Law, grandparents cannot even file for visitation because there is no ongoing dispute between the parents.  Their only option is to try for custody and prove mom is unfit which may be difficult to overcome.  It is unfortunately an all or nothing situation.  My advice to the grandparents is to try and work out a visitation schedule with the mother, attempt to repair their relationship for the child's sake and hopefully everything will work out.  Who knows, maybe the laws will change in the future to cover situations such as this and give grandparents better options.


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