Ask the Attorney: Can Grandparents Join a Custody Case in Arizona?

Grandparents form a special bond with their grandchildren. There is an old joke that grandparents get along so well with their grandchildren because they have a common enemy, the parents. Sadly, this can often become the case when the parents decide to divorce. Caught in the middle of many custody disputes is the relationship between children and their grandparents. Fortunately, family courts in Arizona recognize the special role grandparents play in the lives of children. This has helped establish grandparent rights in Arizona family law. Let’s explore what those rights are, and what steps you can take to enforce your rights to visitation as a grandparent of a child of a divorced family.

What Are Grandparents’ Rights?

Arizona recognizes that grandparents and even great-grandparents can play an important role in a child’s life. This is especially true in cases of divorce. As such, the law permits natural and adoptive grandparents and great-grandparents to petition for visitation rights with the children.

In some cases, if the parents of the child are deemed unfit, a grandparent can petition to be the child’s legal custodian. Keep in mind that this is very rarely granted, as there is a presumption of fitness for the child’s legal custodial parents.

What Are the Grounds for Grandparents’ Rights?

Like most things involving children in divorces, the key factor for an Arizona court to look at with respect to grandparents’ rights is the best interests of the child. In general, in order to get an award of visitation rights to your grandchildren, you will need to show that you have developed a deep and loving bond with them. This will show that the relationship is one that is best for the child.

The Arizona family court is going to look at a number of factors to determine if you have the right to visit your grandchildren. For example, they will want to know the history of your relationship. Do you visit them often? Have you been nurturing them? Has there been any history of abuse or neglect? Each of these will help the family law judge evaluate the nature of the relationship. The court will also take into consideration any motivations you have for making the request, as well as the custodial parent’s motives for trying to deny them. This is to ensure that the dispute is about the interests of the children and not some other factor, such as leverage from the custodial parent trying to extract money from a grandparent. Finally, the court will consider such things as the amount of time requested and whether this will impact the child’s scholastic and extracurricular activities.

When Can a Grandparent File a Petition?

You can file a petition for grandparent visitation rights if one of the following three situations is true in the case of your minor grandchildren. First, you can file if the parents of your grandchildren have been divorced for at least three months. This means that you have to wait to file your petition until after the divorce giving rise to the custody and visitation issue has been granted. Second, you can file your petition three months after one of the parents has died or been declared missing. Third, you can file the petition for your visitation rights immediately if your grandchildren were born out of wedlock and their parents are not currently married.

It is important to keep in mind that you must file your petition in the Arizona county where your grandchildren currently reside. This is the location of the family court with jurisdiction over their welfare. Each county has its own forms that must be filled out along with the petition, as well as its own procedural rules. If you are filing your petition based on the divorce of your grandchild’s parents, then it must be filed as part of the same action that granted the divorce.

How Can You Enforce Your Rights?

Sometimes, you are granted visitation rights but find that the custodial parent makes it difficult or impossible for you to see your grandchild. Unfortunately, the custodial parent’s decisions about parenting time are often controlling. This can occur if your visitation time conflicts with the child’s schedule. You may consider having the noncustodial parent request the time on your behalf. If that doesn’t work, you can petition for enforcement of your rights, or even for supervised visitation so that you can at least see your grandchildren.

If your grandchild’s parents are divorcing, give us a call so we can help you explore your grandparents’ rights

Cohen Family Law PLLC is one of the leading family law firms in Arizona. Our team of attorneys can help you with completing and filing your petition for grandparents’ rights, as well as enforcing visitation rights that have already been granted. We understand the special bond you have with your grandchild and will work hard so you can maintain that special relationship.