“Do grandparents have visitation or legal decision-making rights rights in Arizona?” It’s a question that we hear often. And the answer is: “Yes.” There has never been a time when grandparents were more important to the well-being of children than today. Grandparents have always been intimately involved in the lives of their grandchildren, and today they are raising grandchildren in greater numbers than ever before. There are many reasons for grandparents having to step into the shoes of a parent. The list includes teen pregnancy, substance abuse, incarceration, financial difficulties, mental illness, and other problems. Even under the best of circumstances where the parents are capable caregivers, the presence of grandparents in the children’s lives brings an added sense of love and stability.
But these are complicated times, and our law firm receives calls just about every day from loving grandparents who are being excluded from their grandchildren’s lives and want to learn about grandparent rights. It could be because a parent is angry and seeks to punish the grandparent. It could be because a parent who is on drugs or was missing now returns and insists on taking the children back. Maybe it’s because a parent has remarried and the new husband or wife feels threatened that the children have a relationship with the former spouse’s parents. Or it might be that one of the parents has died, and the surviving parent wishes to move on and put the deceased parent and his family in the past. There are a myriad of reasons why loving grandparents may be cut out of the picture and left in the cold. It’s truly heartbreaking for the grandparents. But, in the long run, it is the children who suffer the most.
In Arizona, grandparents (and other third-parties with a close relationship to the children, such as step-parents and others) have legal rights. Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-409 is the Grandparent Visitation, Grandparent Custody (now referred to as “legal decision-making authority), and Third Party Visitation / Custody statute. The statute lists the circumstances which would enable a grandparent or other non-parent to file a petition for visitation or custody; as well as the factors that the Court must consider in determining whether to grant the petition.
This is not an easy process. In making its decision, the Court must weigh the constitutional right of parents to raise their children as they see fit – against the benefit to the child of maintaining an ongoing relationship with a grandparent or other non-parent that the child loves, and with whom he or she has a close bond. The Court is required to give “special weight” to the parent’s decision. But if the judge feels that it would be in the child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with the grandparents (or other non-parents), and the child’s interests would be substantially harmed if that relationship were severed, then the Court has the authority to order visitation to take place. And if it is determined that all of the factors listed in A.R.S. §25-409(A) are present and it would be “significantly detrimental” to the child to remain or be placed in the care of either legal parent, then the Court can order that the grandparents (or other non-parent) shall have legal decision-making authority (custody) of the child. A strong, experienced attorney can be a tremendous help to someone who is trying to obtain grandparent visitation or custody.
If you are a grandparent or a non-parent who has been (or might be) unfairly cut out of your grandchild’s life and you would like to learn more about how to assert your legal rights, please do not hesitate to give us a call. We’d be happy to talk to you.
Our attorneys, Gary Frank and Hanna Juncaj, represent many grandparents and other non-parents in Arizona courtrooms. They are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. If you are in need of a consultation regarding how to assert your grandparents’ or non-parents’ rights, please call us today at 602-383-3610; or contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.