Thursday, 15 March 2018 07:51

New Standards For Grandparent Visitation With Children

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For many years, Arizona courts would enter orders granting visitation to grandparents if the courts found that one of three conditions existed (parents unwed, parents divorced, or a parent deceased) and that it was in the child’s best interest.  However, the statute for grandparent visitation changed in 2013 and a recent Arizona Court of Appeals decision interpreting the statutory change has made it more difficult for grandparents to get a court order for visitation with grandchildren over a parent’s objection.
 
The amended statute, A. R. S. § 25-409, requires the courts to give “special weight” to a parent’s decision to oppose visitation between a child and a nonparent.  The Arizona Court of Appeals in Goodman v. Forsen, 239 Ariz. 110, 366 P.3d 587 (App. 2016), held that a parent opposing visitation does not bear the burden of proof, and that “special weight” means the party seeking visitation must prove that a fit parent’s decision to deny visitation would substantially impair the child’s best interest.
 
In Goodman, the trial court awarded visitation to the mother’s ex-girlfriend over the mother’s objection because it found the mother's testimony regarding her reasons for opposing visitation was not credible.  The appellate court ruled that the mother’s credibility was not the proper focus of the inquiry, and by making it the focus of the inquiry the trial court had improperly placed the burden of proof on the mother.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the fit mother’s decision would substantially impair the child’s best interests.
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