When Can Grandparents and Other Relatives Get Awarded Visitation?
Arizona recognizes the rights of grandparents and certain other people to child visitation in certain circumstances. However, these rights are in no way automatic. The person seeking visitation must petition the state court and must meet certain legal prerequisites.
To be eligible to file a visitation petition, a person must stand “in loco parentis” to the child. This means the child has treated them as a parent and that they have formed a meaningful parental relationship with the child for a substantial period of time.
The petitioner must also demonstrate one of the following:
- The child was born out of wedlock and the parents are not presently married to each other.
- One of the child’s parents has been dead or missing for three months or more.
- For grandparental or great-grandparental visitation, the child’s parents have been divorced for three months or more.
- For other in loco parentis visitation, there is a pending proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parents.
A court must be convinced that periodic visits with the petitioner would be in the child’s best interests. There is no specific definition of the term “best interests.” Family court judges have wide discretion in deciding the best environment for a child. That said, the law sets forth several factors guiding the family courts on the subject, including these:
- The duration and nature of the relative’s relationship with the child
- The reasoning behind the petition for visitation
- The parent’s reasoning for preventing the relative from visiting the child
- The degree to which the child’s routine, activities or social life might be adversely affected by court ordered periodic visitation with the petitioner
- The potential benefits the child might gain by periodic visitation with the petitioner
If visitation is opposed by either of the child’s parents, the court may still approve the petition if the petitioner can show that the objecting parent’s actions are not in the child’s best interests. This can be difficult to prove, since Arizona law presumes that a parent is best qualified to look after a child’s well-being. However, some parents are demonstrably less qualified to make decisions on their child’s behalf. Examples of poor parenting are abuse or neglect of the child, which are often incident to a parent’s addiction to drugs or alcohol or to periods of incarceration.
Note that a petition is not always required for visitation. The parents can give grandparents certain rights through other legal means such as a power of attorney. An experienced grandparents’ rights attorney can provide more information in a specific matter.
Scottsdale-based Clark & Schloss is one of Arizona’s most respected family relations law firms. Our attorneys work diligently in pursuing the best results obtainable for each client. If you need help with child visitation or another family law matter, feel free to call us at 602-789-3497 or contact us online for a consultation.