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How can a stepparent gain custody rights?

In Arizona, it can be difficult for a stepparent to gain custody rights upon a marriage dissolution. Many stepparents develop strong bonds with their partner's children, becoming the child's psychological parent even if the ties are not based upon shared genetics. While difficult, it is still possible for a stepparent to get child custody rights in the state if certain standards are able to be met.

Arizona defines who is a parent in a restrictive manner, making it hard for a stepparent to establish third-party standing to request custody in only very limited situations. In order to be considered to be eligible, the court must find the stepparent has served in the role in loco parentis to the child.

The law details exactly the procedures a stepparent must follow and the burdens that must be met in order to gain custody rights. First, either one of the legal parents must be deceased, the legal parents of the child must not be married to each other when the petition is filed, or the legal parents have a pending divorce. Second, the stepparent must be able to prove that awarding custody to a legal parent is contrary to the child's best interests. The stepparent must file a petition for custody and can request temporary visitation while the case is proceeding. The petition must be accompanied by an affidavit verifying that the situations exist for him or her to have standing for the request.

Gaining child custody rights as a stepparent, while difficult, is not impossible. It is an extremely complex legal process, so stepparents who wish to have custody may benefit from speaking with a family law attorney who has experience in child custody matters.Source: Arizona Revised Statute § 25-409, http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/25/00409.htm&Title=25&DocType=ARS. Accessed October 3, 2014.

Source: Arizona Law Review, "Standing in third-party custody disputes in Arizona: best interests to parental rights", Lawrence Schlam, October 01, 2014

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