According to U.S. Census Bureau data, as of 2010 there were more than 21,000 children in Arizona living in homes where no parent was present and grandparents were the primary caregiver.

More than anything, this statistic shows just how strong a grandparent's love can be. However, it also means that there are thousands of grandparents in Arizona who are taking on financial and emotional burdens they likely did not expect to shoulder.

Grandparents can wind up caring for their grandchildren for a number of different reasons. In some cases, grandparents receive custody after the death of a parent. In others, they might come to care for their grandchildren because the parents are not able to or because the children have been removed from an unhealthy situation at home.

Whatever the reason for the change, it is crucial that the grandparents take steps to protect their grandparents' rights. This is important in both permanent and temporary custody situations.

Options for grandparents

Getting legal protection can protect grandparents' custody rights and can allow them to make important decisions about their grandchildren's schooling and medical care. It can also give them access to public assistance programs that they might not otherwise qualify for.

Arizona law allows grandparents to petition for custody if the grandparents are acting in a parenting capacity and it would not be safe or healthy for the child to be in the custody of a legal parent. This could happen for a number of reasons, including a parent's struggle with chemical abuse, medical or mental health issues, incarceration or abandonment. Grandparents can also petition for custody after a child has been removed from a parent's care and placed in state custody.

If grandparents expect to permanently care for their grandchild, it may make sense to have the legal parents' rights terminated so that the grandparent can adopt the grandchild.

In short-term situations (like, for example, military deployment or hospitalization) parents can use a power of attorney to give grandparents legal rights over a grandchild. This will give grandparents the ability to enroll children in school, obtain medical care and make other important decisions. Powers of attorney can be easily rescinded once the parent is able to care for the child again.

Challenging grandparent custody

If grandparents have obtained legal custody of a child, but have not legally adopted the child, the child's parents can attempt to regain custody at a later date.

In some cases, grandparents may choose to voluntarily relinquish custody back to the parents. If they do not wish to do this, the issue will likely have to be decided in court. The court will weigh all of the factors in the case to create a child custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. Grandparents who lose custody may still be able to have recognized visitation rights.

Working with a family law attorney


While grandparent custody is becoming increasingly common in Arizona, the issue is far from simple. If you are caring for your grandchild - or if you are concerned about your grandchild's safety at home - talk with an experienced Arizona family law attorney. The attorney will be able to review the facts of the case and advise you on the best ways for you to help protect and nurture your grandchild's future.