Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Arizona?

Learn about grandparent visitation rights after divorce in Arizona.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School

While some grandparents live far away from their grandchildren, others are heavily involved in their grandchildren's lives. When a child's home splits, due to divorce, death, or other reasons, grandparents often want to ensure they'll still be able to spend time with their grandchildren.

This article explains the visitation rights of grandparents in Arizona. If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation in Arizona after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.

When Can Grandparents Ask for Visitation?

In Arizona, grandparents can petition the court for visitation with their grandchildren if visitation is in the best interest of the children and if one of the following is true:

  • one of the legal parents is deceased or has been missing for at least three months (parent must have been reported missing to law enforcement)
  • the child was born out of wedlock, and the parents aren't currently married
  • the parents have been divorced for at least three months, or
  • their divorce or legal separation is currently pending.

If there's been a previous custody case regarding the grandchild in question, the grandparent filing for visitation must file the petition in the same court and county. If there hasn't been a custody case concerning the child, the grandparent should file the petition in the child's home county.

How Courts Decide Whether to Grant Grandparents Visitation

When a court decides whether to give a grandparent visitation, the judge gives some deference to the child's legal parents. The court presumes that the parents know what's in the child's best interests unless the grandparent proves otherwise.

A judge deciding grandparent visitation considers each of the following factors:

  • the grandparent's past relationship with the child
  • the grandparent's motivations in filing for visitation
  • the parent's motivations in opposing grandparent visitation
  • the amount of requested visitation time, and its potential to disrupt the child's current schedule, and
  • if either of the child's parents are deceased, the benefit in the extended family relationship.

When possible, courts try to schedule a grandparent's visitation during periods when the grandparent's child has custody. In other words, if a child's parents live separately, a maternal grandmother would have visitation time during the child's mother's custodial periods.

Grandparent visitation rights don't necessarily end if the child relocates. The grandparent can petition the court to enforce or modify the visitation order if a parent relocates with a child. The court will determine whether it's in the child's best interest for visitation to continue after relocation by evaluating the child's relationship with the relocating parent, the non-relocating parent, and any others who have visitation.

Visitation Rights After Adoption

Grandparent's visitation rights automatically end if the legal parents place the child for adoption. An adoption severs the legal relationships between the former legal parents and the child, but also all other relatives of the former legal parents. If the child comes off the potential adoption rolls or is removed from an adoptive home, the court can reinstate grandparent visitation rights. If a child is adopted by another relative (sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or stepparent), grandparents' visitation rights stay intact.

As an example, if a maternal grandmother has visitation rights with her daughter's son, and the daughter marries a man that adopts her son, the maternal grandmother's visitation stays intact. On the other hand, if the granddaughter lives with her father, and the father's new wife adopts the granddaughter, the maternal grandmother's visitation ends automatically.

Can Grandparents Win Custody of a Grandchild?

A grandparent in Arizona can win custody of a grandchild in limited situations. A grandparent can file a petition for custody if each of the following requirements is met:

  • the grandparent has a parental relationship with the child
  • neither legal parent is fit to have custody
  • no court has entered a custody order in the previous year, unless the child's present environment threatens the child's wellbeing, and
  • the parents are unmarried, currently divorcing, or one parent has died.

The grandparent trying to prove a parental relationship with a child doesn't have to show that he or she has a stronger relationship with the child than the parent, only that the child treated the grandparent as a parent for a substantial period of time.

If you're a grandparent and believe you should have custody of your grandchild, you'll need to file a petition for custody along with an affidavit stating that the above requirements have been met. You'll need to serve a copy of this petition on the child's legal parents, as well as anyone else who represents the child or may have legal decision-making authority over the child.

Ultimately, a judge will decide whether the grandparent's relationship with the child qualifies for custody, as well as whether the parents are fit to have custody of the child. Also, the court will presume that the child is better off with a legal parent than a grandparent unless the grandparent clearly proves that it's in not in the child's best interests to be with a legal parent.

If you have additional questions about grandparents' visitation rights, you should consult an Arizona family law attorney.

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