Under certain circumstances, Arizona law allows for a person who has a significant and longstanding relationship with a child(ren) to request legal rights including legal decision making (custody) or parenting time (visitation).

In order to qualify for third party rights certain conditions must be met.

These include, but are not limited to, the parents of the children are unmarried, divorced, or a parent is deceased and there has not been a recent legal action involving the children. Even when a party requesting third party rights meets the legal criteria, the court is required to give special weight to a fit parent’s choice regarding whether to involve a third party in their children’s lives.

How to Obtain Legal Decision-Making Rights for Children in Arizona

To obtain legal decision-making rights (custody), the third party must demonstrate that child’s present environment may seriously endanger the children’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health. The legal criteria for visitation, is more relaxed and can, under certain circumstances, be obtained by simply proving that time with the third party who has played a significant role in the children’s life is in the children’s best interest. Depending upon the circumstances, the use of an expert may significantly increase the likelihood of successfully requesting or defending against a third-party claim. Depending upon the rights sought, the court will consider the relationship between the person seeking third party rights and the children, the motivation for the individual seeking third party rights, the motivation of the parent objecting, the quantity of the visitation requested, and the impact of visitation or lack thereof.

Can I Obtain a Legal Right to Visit or Care for a Child, even if I am not a Biological Parent?

Yes, if certain conditions are met. Arizona recognizes third party child rights in certain circumstances. Although cases can be complicated and depend on what would serve the best interests of the child, a person may file for legal-decision making authority or physical placement of a child if: (1) s/he stands in loco parentis to the child; (2) it would be significantly detrimental to the child to remain or be placed in the care of either legal parent who wishes to keep or acquire legal decision-making; and (3) a court of competent jurisdiction has not entered or approved an order concerning legal decision-making or parenting time within one year before the person filed a petition (unless there is reason to believe the child’s present environment may seriously endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health). Additionally, the person filing must establish that one of the following applies: one of the legal parents is deceased; the child’s legal parents are not married to each other at the time the petition is filed; or a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation is pending at the time the petition is filed. Alternatively, a person other than a legal parent (such as a grandparent) may petition the court for the right to visit the child if is in the child’s best interests, and any of the following are true: one of the legal parents is deceased, or has been missing for at least 3 months; the child was born out of wedlock and the child’s legal parents are not married to each other at the time the petition is filed; for grandparents, the marriage of the parents of the child has been dissolved for at least three months; or for in loco parentis visitation, a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the legal parents is pending at the time the petition is filed. Third party rights cases are legally quite complex. If you have questions about such issues, you should consult an attorney to discuss your situation.

What is In Loco Parentis?

In loco parentis is a latin phrase which means “in the place of a parent.” In the law, in loco parentis is a legal status which must be established in order to seek custody rights for a child to whom you are not biologically related. If you have developed a deep and caring relationship with a child, such that you have effectively taken on the role of a parent, you may be able to obtain legal rights relating to the child without formally adopting him/her.

Kathleen Stillman

Associate

Jared Sandler

Associate