The Rights of Grandparents in Arizona

grandparents in every state want visitation with grandchildren
Arizona is home to many grandparents, but it does not make it easy for them to win visitation. Photo © Peter Correz | Getty Images

Arizona has more than its share of grandparents, thanks to an abundance of retirement communities. It is not, however, so hospitable to grandparents' rights.

Intact Families Exempt

Arizona is one of the states that exempts intact families from grandparent visitation suits. In order for such a suit to be filed, one of these conditions must be met: the marriage of the parents of the child must have been dissolved for at least three months, a parent must be deceased, a parent must have been officially declared missing for at least three months or the child must have been born out of wedlock. In the case of a child born out of wedlock, if the parents have subsequently married, the family is considered intact, and grandparents cannot sue for visitation.

Grandparents who qualify can petition for visitation as part of divorce or paternity proceedings if either is held. Otherwise, the grandparents can petition the court separately for visitation.

Changes were made to Arizona family law, taking effect in 2013. The provisions for grandparent visitation were not radically changed, but the law now reads that "a person other than a legal parent may petition the superior court for visitation with a child." That provision opens the door for siblings, aunts, uncles, step-relatives and others to sue for visitation. 

Arizona specifically grants great-grandparents the same visitation rights as grandparents. 

Best Interests Test

As in all states, the court must determine the best interests of the child. Arizona requires the court to consider "all relevant factors" but specifically lists these factors to be considered:

  •  A historical relationship between the grandparent and child
  • The motivation of the person requesting visitation
  • The motivation of the person denying visitation
  • The quantity of time requested and the possible adverse impact that visitation will have on the child's customary activities
  • In the case of the death of a parent, the benefits of maintaining a relationship with the extended family.

Other Provisions

Arizona law also specifies that grandparent visitation shall take place during the time when the grandparent's child has access to the child, if "logistically possible and appropriate."

Like most states, Arizona provides that adoption cuts off visitation rights unless the adopting party is a stepparent.

Legal Help in Arizona

The county clerk's office can provide grandparents with forms to file, but the following counties have the necessary forms online: Maricopa County, Mohave County, Pinal County and Yavapai County. In Coconino County, grandparents are directed to download the forms for Yavapai County and change the name of the county to Coconino. 

The Arizona Bar Association maintains a website, AZLawHelp, which has much useful information, including a page about obtaining legal aid in Arizona.

The Dodge Decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court case of Troxel. v. Granville significantly impacted grandparent visitation law in all 50 states. This decision states that "fit parents" are presumed to act in the best interests of their children, even when they cut off contact between grandparents and their grandchildren. 

Arizona has its own somewhat famous case, with a similar name. The case of Dodge v. Graville was initiated in 1999 and was litigated during roughly the same period as Troxel v. Granville. The case was appealed four times and resulted in two published opinions, commonly referred to as Dodge I and Dodge II. 

In Dodge I, the maternal grandparents asked for visitation with their two granddaughters following the death of their daughter, the girls' mother. The court awarded twice-monthly visitation to the grandparents. The father appealed. On appeal, the court found that the decision was constitutional and that the amount of visitation time was not excessive. The court did, however, strike other provisions made by the lower court, such as the requirement that the father encourages weekly phone calls to the grandparents.

The legal proceedings known as Dodge II began while Dodge I was in the appeals process. The father was found in contempt for not following the original visitation agreement. A supervisor was appointed to ensure that the visitation order was followed. The father challenged the supervisory order. The court upheld the legality of such supervision. The father appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. By this time, the U.S. Supreme Court had decided the case of Troxel v. Granville, and it vacated the latest decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals and instructed it to review its findings in light of the Troxel case. The Court of Appeals then vacated its finding of contempt on the part of the father but left other constitutional issues undecided.

Other Important Cases in Arizona

Arizona faced another challenge in the 2000 case of Jackson v. Tangreen. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Arizona statute in that case and also upheld Arizona's law stating that adoption terminates visitation rights unless the adopting party is a stepparent. The parents in the case -- the natural mother and an adoptive stepfather -- had argued that it is unconstitutional to discriminate between two-parent adoptions and stepparent adoptions, but the court found that there is little need for a "clean break" or "fresh start" in stepparent adoptions as there may be in two-parent adoptions. The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to hear Jackson v. Tangreen but declined.

In the 2007 case of Sheehan v. Flowers, a grandmother who had been awarded visitation with a grandchild sued to keep the child's mother from relocating out of state, citing a statute that allows non-custodial parents to object to such moves. The court found, however, that the statute did not apply to grandparents who have been awarded visitation.