THIRD PARTY RIGHTS
Under Arizona law, a non-parent may petition the family court to establish child custody and/or visitation rights. While the term third party rights is sometimes used to describe both legal objectives, it really should be used only to refer to cases where a non-parent seeks custodial rights — called legal decision-making, in Arizona. In these cases, the non-parent essentially wants to establish parental rights, not just visitation. Our family law attorneys have successfully litigated third party cases from both sides.
THIRD PARTY RIGHTS
Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-409, petitions for third party rights can only be filed by individuals who stand in loco parentis, which literally means the place of a parent. This means that a parental relationship must already exist with the child before the petition is filed. The most common example may be a step-parent with whom the child lives for a period of time.
THIRD PARTY & GRANDPARENT VISITATION
Though controlled by the same statute, cases where non-parents seek only visitation are treated a little bit differently. Notably, there is no in loco parentis requirement for third party visitation. Still, it is important to understand that these petitions are not unconditionally granted. Special weight must be given to the parents’ decision to deny visitation.
BURDEN OF PROOF
A non-parent seeking third party rights or visitation must prove that denial would substantially harm the child. This burden is far more imposing than what family courts use to decide ordinary child custody cases. This is because third party cases involve a fit parent’s constitutional right to make decisions for his or her children. Because these cases are more complex than ordinary child custody cases, it is especially important to consult with an experienced family law attorney. If a third party’s petition fails, he or she could be ordered to pay the parents’ attorney’s fees.
Our top rated family lawyers have successfully represented third parties and also have successfully defended against third party petitions. Contact us for a free consultation.