Standing in Third-Party Custody Disputes in Arizona: Best Interests to Parental Rights—And Shifting the Balance Back Again

Third parties have historically been faced with the presumption that parents should have a preference in custody proceedings. Earlier, however, Arizona courts had no problem finding that under appropriate circumstances third parties should prevail, but in 1973 Arizona adopted Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act custody provisions promulgated to strengthen parental rights and subject third-parties to rigid standing requirements. The UMDA language, however, proved overly restrictive in application. It forced courts to either ignore the “best interests” of children or engage in questionable statutory interpretation to support third party claimants. This article discusses the relative wisdom and efficacy of recent important Arizona legislation and case law which have once again reversed course, now properly re-framing third-party standing in terms of “meaningful relationships” and “detriment” to children caused by a given placement, thus moving away from the unhelpful former UMDA emphasis on parental “property rights.”