Dear Carolyn,

My daughter Erin died two months ago of a drug overdose. She had a history of drug use and was always in and out of rehab. Erin was only thirty-five, and she lived with me. She was the mother of my only grandson, who is age seven. Several years ago, the father obtained custody through mediation. There is a court order of custody. In that court order, I, as the grandmother, am mentioned several times. I had access to the grandson under the order. I want to see my grandson, but the father always has an excuse. Can I get some grandparents’ rights in North Carolina?

Loving Grandmother

Dear Grandmother,

Your case is heartbreaking, but it is a story told too often in this country. I am sorry for your loss of Erin. The North Carolina law on grandparent visitation has narrow parameters, but there is a shot at some visitation because you are mentioned in the order. How significantly and prominently you are mentioned is essential and part of the analysis. It would help if you had a very experienced family law specialist to look at the details of your situation and the court order. Here are a few of the principles.

The North Carolina statutes limit the time that a grandparent can jump into a custody dispute to the time of the custodial disagreement between the mother and father. That law is premised on the “intact family rule,” which prohibits a court from awarding custodial/visitation to anyone other than a biological parent unless the biological parents are in dispute or have deviated from the parent’s constitutional right to exclusion control of biological children. Biological parents in a custody dispute are no longer an intact family.

My constant advice to grandparents with substantial grandchildren relationships is to ask for intervention in a child custody action to get recognition by the court as persons with visitation rights. Otherwise, when a biological parent dies, that parent’s parents may lose access to the grandchild unless the living parent agrees.

Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions. Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…” “Ask Carolyn…” will be a regular column, but not necessarily weekly.