Not related? What are the rights of a step parent or other third party care giver to see a child? It is not as easy as it used to be.
When children are born out of wedlock, third parties become more involved and more important in helping raise a child. A third party can include a grandparent, stepparent, boyfriend or girlfriend of the parent, other family members, or even a friend. Essentially, a third party is anyone who has been involved in a child’s life. Often, these third parties are becoming so heavily involved in children’s lives that they feel they are similar to a parent, and want to have rights similar to a parent.
Step Parents And Third Party Caregiver Rights
So what are the rights of a step parent and these third parties? Third party rights were previously limited to grandparents. However, third party rights have been vastly expanded to include a number of people.
Arizona Statute 25-409 outlines the requirements third parties must have if they want to file for legal rights of a child.
If the third party wants legal decision making and physical custody of the child, that third party must stand in loco parentis to the child. In loco parentis means the third party has stood in place of a parent. The definition is fairly vague. For example a stepparent may have stood in loco parentis if they have been taking care of the child for several years. A grandparent could stand in loco parentis if they took care of the child while the parents were traveling or in prison. Further, the third party would be required to show that it would be significantly detrimental to the child to remain or be placed in the care of a legal parent.
Visitation but not legal control
If the third party only wants visitation, but no actual legal control of the child, the requirements are not as strict. However, keep in mind that with visitation, you only get to see the child. You cannot make any decisions about the child, and the visitation may be very limited. It could range anywhere from a few hours a month to a third of the days in a month. It vastly depends on what the court believes is in the best interests of the child.
Obtaining third party rights seems simple if you meet the requirements of the statute. However, in 2016, the Court of Appeals of Arizona made a ruling on a third party case that makes it more difficult for third parties to obtain rights. This ruling determined that a court must give “special weight” to a parent’s determination of whether the child would benefit from visitation with a third party, and that “special weight” means that a parent’s decision controls unless it clearly and substantially impairs a child’s best interests.
So what does all of this mean?
This means that it is going to be more difficult for a step parent or third party to get legal decision making, custody, or visitation with a child. A parent’s decision is going to be heavily considered. If a parent is fit, and they believe it is not in the child’s best interests to have visitation with a specific third party, the third party must prove that it would substantially impair the child’s best interests. The burden is placed on the third party. Thus, it is very important that you consult an experienced family law attorney who has worked on third party cases, as there are many factors that are going to come into play.