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Grandparents Fight For Right To See Grandchildren

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RALEIGH — Many grandparents have a special relationship with their grandchildren, but do they have the right to visit them? While the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on the subject, some North Carolina grandparents are fighting for that right.

When Sylvia and William Hack of Raleigh lost their daughter Cindy in 1995, they lost much more.

Although they won custody of their granddaughter, Brandice, the court gave the other two grandkids, Jonathan and Heather, to the biological father in Wayne County.

Since that time, the Hacks claim the dad has almost totally denied them visitation with their grandkids.

"Everyone has tried to destroy that bond," said Sylvia Hack. "They need that nurturing from me that my daughter could not give them, and I know my daughter would want that."

The Supreme Court is debating that issue, thanks to a case in the state of Washington, where grandparents want more frequent visits with two children. The justices heard arguments on Wednesday, but their decision is not expected until sometime this summer.

"Traditionally, grandparents have always been important in helping raise the children by imparting your values and your heritage," William Hack said.

Bill Brooks of the conservative North Carolina Family Policy Council believes if the law is changed to accommodate grandparents' desires, it could open the door to just about anyone.

"Our constitution is very clear that parents have the right to raise their children and control who has access to their children," Brooks said. "How about significant others like aunts and uncles and friends and maybe even teachers or special people who have been in a child's life sometime in the past?"

Both sides of the emotionally-charged issue agree that the children ultimately get caught in the middle.

The Hacks contend they know what is best for their grandchildren, and they believe the law should support their role.

"They need to know where their heritage comes from, and they need to know that their grandparents love them," Sylvia Hack said.

For the past several years, grandparents like the Hacks have fought unsuccessfully to win more rights through theGeneral Assembly. They say it is too expensive to continue fighting in court for visitation.

While some grandparents fight for visitation, many are actually raising their grandchildren.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 3 percent of children lived in their grandparent's homes in 1970. But by 1997, the percentage of children living with their grandparents was 5.5 percent.

In North Carolina, grandparents are now raising 111,000 children.

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Cullen Browder, Reporter
Lynn French, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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