If a North Carolina father is not the custodial parent and the custodial parent dies, he may want to get custody of the child. However, if his name is not on the child’s birth certificate or if he has not filed a signed acknowledgement of paternity with the court, he must first establish paternity.
If he will not or cannot get custody after the custodial parent’s death, other family members might be a good option. Grandparents or aunts and uncles might become the child’s guardian. If no family members step forward to become the guardian, a judge may award custody to a family friend or someone else who is not a relative. If such a person petitions for custody, the judge will consider the relationship between the child and that person, whether any relatives are interested in becoming the child’s guardian, and the child’s best interests.
If the child enters the foster system, which is what will happen if no one can become the child’s guardian, then family members will have to go through the legal system in order to get visitation rights. Family members will not have any control over the child’s placement once the child is a ward of the state.
This is one of a number of issues parents may want to discuss during a divorce if they have not already chosen someone to be their child’s guardian in the event of their deaths. Other issues parents might want to include are who will pay for extracurricular activities and how they will handle holidays. Although these may be emotional discussions, if parents can work out some of their conflicts early on, it may lead to smoother co-parenting in the years ahead.