In Arizona, a third party who is not the biological parent of a child may file a petition to obtain legal and residential custody of the child if certain circumstances apply. In order to be able to file for custody as a third party, the person must first have a relationship that is in loco parentis to the child, which means in place of the parent. Commonly, people who fall into this category are a child's grandparents.
In order for a third party to obtain a child custody order, several conditions must apply. The court must find that it would be harmful to the child for either parent to retain custody. Additionally, one of the following stipulations must apply: One of the child's parents is deceased, the parents are not married at the time the petition is filed, or the parents have a pending dissolution of marriage or legal separation at the time the petition is filed.
Courts operate under a rebuttable presumption that placing the child in the custody of his or her parents is in the child's best interests. In order to overcome the presumption, the third party must prove that it is not in the best interests of the child by clear and convincing evidence. Third parties may also file for visitation with a child under some circumstances.
When third parties wish to seek child custody of a child with whom they stand in loco parentis, the process can be complicated but not impossible. People in such situations may benefit from meeting with a family law attorney who accepts child custody and visitation cases. He or she may be able to evaluate families' circumstances and file appropriate motions in order to assist third parties with obtaining custody when the child's current living situation is detrimental.
Source: Arizona State Legislature, "25-409. Third party rights", October 29, 2014