Grandparent Visitation Rights Upheld In Arizona Court Case

JANUARY 1, 2001 VOLUME 8, NUMBER 27

In June of 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Troxel v. Granville, concerning the rights of grandparents to secure court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren. In the wake of that case many observers predicted that no such right could survive. Arizona’s Court of Appeals last week disagreed, and upheld Arizona’s law giving visitation rights to at least some grandparents.

Robert and Christy Thon had two children before their marriage broke up in 1994. Christy retained custody of the children, but in 1997 Robert’s mother Sandi Tangreen successfully petitioned the Yavapai County court in Prescott for visitation.

Arizona law (Arizona Revised Statutes section 25-409) permits a grandparent to request court-ordered visitation in three circumstances:

If the parents have been divorced for at least three months, or
If one parent has been missing for at least three months, or
If the child was born out of wedlock.

The trial judge found that the basic requirements had been met, and that visitation would be in the children’s best interests. Visitation was ordered and continued for the next year.

By 1998 Christy had married Steven Jackson, and her new husband wanted to adopt the children. Robert, their father, agreed, and the adoption was shortly completed. The Jacksons then sought to terminate Ms. Tangreen’s rights to visitation.

The trial court determined that adoption by a stepparent does not terminate the biological grandparents’ right to visitation, and ordered that the visits continue. While the Jackons’ appeal was pending the U.S. Supreme Court decided Troxel v. Granville.

The Arizona Court of Appeals, in a decision filed the day after Christmas, decided that the U.S. Supreme Court opinion did not control their decision. Noting that the Supreme Court decision had been divided (a 6-3 vote had found Washington State’s similar statute unconstitutional), the Arizona court reasoned that the defects in the Washington statute are not found in Arizona’s law.

The Court of Appeals pointed to several distinctions between the two state statutes. Among the differences:

Washington applied its visitation rights to any interested person, but Arizona’s statute is limited to grandparents and great-grandparents.
Arizona law only permits visitation orders in cases of divorce, missing parents or out-of-wedlock births.
Arizona’s statute requires the trial court to consider “all relevant factors” in determining the child’s best interests.

Jackson v. Tangreen, December 26, 2000. Arizona’s grandparent visitation statute has survived its first challenge in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Troxel. This area of the law, however, is far from finally settled.

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