Phoenix Guardianship Attorneys
Frequently, Maricopa County family law judges issue orders regarding support or visitation, and families adjust to these orders. That’s especially true during divorce temporary hearings. In the guardianship context, however, the opposite is often true. Generally, a Maricopa County family law judge issues orders which formalize the existing parent-child relationships. Also in this context, words like “parents” and “children” often have multiple meanings.
Grandparent and guardianship orders were almost unheard of in the twentieth century. Only families that were extremely dysfunctional needed such interventions. Today, however, the American family has changed, so these orders are much more common.
The compassionate Phoenix guardianship attorneys at Stratton Family Law understand your family’s needs. Fundamentally, guardianship and grandparent orders are about peace of mind. When families are less concerned about their legal status, they can focus on other things which are more important. That stability is what we strive for at Stratton Family Law, because such stability benefits everyone.
When is Guardianship Appropriate?
Many parents are temporarily unable to discharge their legal and/or emotional responsibilities as parents. Frequently, the financial or other circumstances involved are completely beyond their control.
So, a temporary guardianship does not necessarily mean the parents are bad people. Temporary guardianship just means that, for some reason, the parents need some additional help. And, someone else has stepped forward to provide that help.
Sometimes, these disabilities are permanent. A Phoenix guardianship lawyer can make the appropriate arrangements in these situations as well.
Termination of parental rights is routine in step-parent adoption cases, in Arizona and elsewhere. Children can have only two legal parents. So, the stepfather or stepmother simply replaces the biological father or mother. Terminations might also be in the best interests of the child, if a parent is dangerously unfit.
Arizona law is rather unique in that these terminations can be temporary, in some situations. Consent guardianship is a good example. The parents effectively loan their legal parental authority to a non-parent, who might or might not be kin to the children. This authority allows the guardian to do things like:
- Enroll the children in school,
- Include the children on a group health insurance plan,
- Take the children to a doctor,
- Serve as an emergency contact person, and
- Provide the emotional stability the child needs.
If both parents are legally competent, they must both consent to non-parent guardianship under the identical terms. If one parent refuses to consent for whatever reason, the would-be guardian must file a guardianship petition, as outlined below.
On a somewhat related note, private adoptions are essentially temporary consent guardianships. The adoptive parents often agree to provide the mother’s room and board, and also pay her medical expenses, while she is pregnant.
These arrangements are legal as long as the adoptive parents do not exceed strict financial limits. If they pay too much, even as expense reimbursement, the transaction could be illegal child trafficking.
Non-Parent Custody Petitions
These petitions are not easy to win. The guardian must prove all three of the following points by clear and convincing evidence:
- The guardian currently serves in loco parientes (as a physical and practical substitute for the parents),
- Continued placement with the parents would be “significantly detrimental” to the child, and
- No other court has ruled in this area within the past year, or there is an immediate danger to the child’s physical or emotional health.
“Clear and convincing” is one of the highest standards of proof in Arizona law. Such evidence is necessary to overcome the Grand Canyon State’s parental presumption. This idea, also known as the “Father Knows Best presumption,” gives the benefit of the doubt to the parents in custody situations. The parental presumption also applies in grandparent visitation cases. More on that below.
Some limited loopholes are available. For example, non-parent custody petitions are slightly easier to win if one natural parent is deceased.
When are Grandparents’ Rights an Issue?
Many children have solid but rather distant relationships with their grandparents. In other cases, the emotional bond is much stronger. Grey divorce and pseudo-custody arrangements sometimes strain these bonds.
Grey divorce usually refers to divorce over age 55. Frequently, adult children are less emotionally resilient than young children. As a result, when their parents divorce, they sometimes “blame” one parent for the marriage dissolution. They retaliate by cutting off contact between their child and the targeted grandparent.
Pseudo-custody usually refers to tri-generational households. A parent and child live with one or both grandparents. The parent has legal custody of the child, but the grandparents pay the bills and fulfill most parenting responsibilities. Often, these relationships turn sour for one reason or another, and the grandparent’s contact with the grandchild dwindles to almost nothing.
In many states, grandparents have almost no legal rights in these situations, largely because of the 2000 Supreme Court case Troxel v. Granville. Fortunately for Maricopa County grandparents, Arizona’s laws are much more liberal in this area.
Visitation Options for Grandparents
Grandparents have basically two visitation options in these situations. The first usually applies in grey divorces, and the second usually applies in pseudo-custody cases.
If a divorce petition is currently pending between the grandchild’s parents or these parents are not legally married at the time, a grandparent can ask the court for reasonable visitation rights. These visitation rights must be in the best interests of the children.
Evidence of best interests often comes down to the grandparent/grandchild relationship. If the grandparents were little more than babysitters, these petitions are difficult to win. If the grandparents took an active child development role, their position is much stronger.
In pseudo-custody cases, and other situations as well, grandparents can petition for visitation under the aforementioned in loco parientes procedure. Once again, the requested grandparent visitation must be in the best interests of the children.
Modern families often include nonparents who serve as parents, at least to an extent. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Phoenix, contact Stratton Family Law. We routinely handle matters in Maricopa County and nearby jurisdictions.