Blended families are commonplace nowadays. Stepparents can be just as, if not more, influential on a child’s life as their own biological parents and couples are consciously choosing to create families without being married or both related to the child by blood or adoption. Grandparents often take on the role of parents when there are issues at home. When blended families decide to divorce or separate, navigating around who gets custody or visitation can be tricky. It is important to work with a lawyer who knows the difference between third-party visitation, custody, “in loco parentis,” intended parent, and grandparent rights.
We have over 60 years of experience in Scottsdale family law. With a wealth of knowledge of custody and parental rights, we can help you navigate through this difficult process in family court. If you want to learn more about Third-Party Rights in Arizona, contact Scottsdale the family law team today.
Arizona law lumps any person who is not a legal parent to a child into the category of “third-party.” Although intended second parents, stepparents, and grandparents may have very strong parental relationships with a child, courts are required to start from the belief that a child should stay with their biological parents to keep a healthy relationship and that a legal parent should be allowed to choose who to let in their child’s life. The presumption that a fit parent acts in their child’s best interests is often difficult to overcome, but an experienced attorney can evaluate your case and give a “third-party” whose contact with the child they love is being limited or even ended the best chance at remaining in that child’s life.
In certain circumstances, a third party may even be able to get custody of a child if staying with their legal parent would be significantly detrimental due to factors such as abuse, neglect, impairment.
Third-party custody and visitation are different things. When you have custody of a child you have legal decision-making authority and “permanent” placement of the child. Custody is not to be confused with “in loco parentis” which means “in place of parents” and simply means someone who is not the child’s legal parent but has acted as a parent and has formed a meaningful relationship with the child for a substantial amount of time.
Winning third-party custody can be an uphill battle whether you are a relative, grandparent or someone else because you not only have to prove that you stand in loco parentis to a child, but that it would be significantly worse for them to be with their parents who wish to retain custody. Under Arizona law, an in loco parentis person cannot share legal custody (known officially as legal decision-making) with a legal parent.
Third parties may also seek visitation rights instead of custody if at least one legal parent is able to properly parent. You do not need to be in loco parentis to seek visitation, but you still have to have a close relationship with the child. The court gives special weight to the child’s parents given their opinions on what best serves the child.
Visitation will only allow you to spend time with the child, but not make any parental decisions for them. There are also legal limits on when a third party can seek visitation resulting in a situation where the law simply does not allow anyone to seek visitation over a child simply by virtue of their family structure.
While grandparents have the same rights as third parties to seek custody or visitation, they also benefit from slightly more favorable rules in seeking visitation when the legal parents refuse to let grandparents visit with their grandchildren.
Seeking third-party visitation or custody is often a difficult and emotional battle to win. If you are in a situation where it makes sense for you to gain custody or visitation, call the experienced Scottsdale family law team who will help you learn more about your Arizona Third Party Rights and help you navigate the emotional and legal road ahead.