3rd Party Adoption

Exercising Third-Party Adoption Rights in AZ

Child custody can be an exceedingly difficult issue to understand. Often, due to the most unfortunate circumstances, a third party may need to seek intervention from the courts regarding custody, visitation, or placement in a home. In some situations, these children are not biologically related to the people they are being placed with. While the person seeking this decision is often a relative of one of the biological parents of the child, a close family friend, or even an ex-stepparent of the child, this can still put a great deal of strain on all parties involved.

Most frequently, Arizona’s third-party adoption or visitation rights are proposed because the biological parent or parents cannot care for the child but may have refused to allow family or loved ones any kind of visitation with the child or children. In this case, the Arizona family court must get involved in determining what is in the best interest of the child and make an official custody ruling and adoption decree.

Third-Party Adoption Rights in Arizona Explained

A third-party adoption happens when the seeking party isn’t a biological parent of the child or children but is instead a relative or close family friend. Third party adoptions stand in contrast to foster-to-adopt or general adoption situations, where the child is adopted by an unfamiliar non-relative. This can happen when either of the parents does not want to maintain custody or is deemed incapable of caring for the child or children.

These two situations tend to occur because of very unfortunate circumstances. Sometimes, parents choose to relinquish their rights, but other times, more aggressive legal action is taken when the parents are determined to remain unfit to care for the child or children.

Reasons this can happen include:

  • Abandonment or desertion
  • Abuse or extreme neglect
  • Ongoing substance abuse
  • Inability to provide for the child or children

These situations can be incredibly dangerous and damaging for the minors involved. Often, the child or children remaining with a family member or friend is a preferred solution to minimize the negative impact on the children. When relatives are capable of petitioning for adoption, the Arizona family court must decide what is in the best interest of the child or children involved.

What Is Considered the Best Interest of the Child?

Best Interest of the Child

Determining the best interests of the child and arranging custody and adoption in accordance with that determination is the primary concern of family courts. As such, it is the determining factor in adoption, custody, and visitation hearings. When it comes to the best interests of the child, the court prioritizes the welfare and safety of the child or children, specifically “all factors that are relevant to the child’s physical and emotional well-being.”

Some of the factors the court considers regarding the child’s best interests include:

  • Any potential relationship that the child may have with the petitioning adult
  • Any relationships or interactions with siblings or other family members that may affect the child after the adoption
  • The child’s current school, home, or community attachments (in the event they need to be relocated)
  • Whether the child is of a reasonable age or maturity level to help in the decision-making process
  • The physical and mental health of all individuals involved
  • Any history of substance use, abuse, or neglect

These are all crucial factors in determining who can be granted third-party visitation, custody, or adoption. It is worth noting that often, parents do not wish to terminate their rights, and it is difficult to award custody or adoption rights to a third party. For this reason, most third-party cases in Arizona involve visitation rights only.

Important Factors for Third-Party Custody in AZ

In addition to the child’s best interests, these factors are considered when a third-party petitions for custody of a child or children.

  • Whether a third party has been acting in loco parentis for the child
  • Whether allowing the child to remain in the care of either parent would be extremely detrimental to their well-being
  • A legal decision was not made within one year prior to the current filing by the petitioner
  • Whether one of the child’s parents is deceased, the parents are unmarried, or divorce filings are pending

What Is in Loco Parentis?

In loco parentis is a Latin term that means “in place of a parent.” In the legal world, it refers specifically to a non-parent who takes on the typical roles and responsibilities of a parent.

Indicators an in loco parentis situation exists include whether:

  • The child has treated that person like a parent.
  • The person has a strong, meaningful relationship with the child.
  • That relationship has been established for a considerable length of time.

An individual acting in loco parentis could be a grandparent, aunt, uncle, stepparent, sibling, or another third party who has stood in as a parent to the child for an extended period. In loco parentis situations frequently happen in Arizona. The courts often hear cases where a party has been acting as a parent for a child, especially with blended families.

The Arizona Third-Party Adoption Process

The Adoption Process

The adoption process can be complex, even for a close friend or family member. It’s also important to recognize that third-party adoption and third-party visitation are quite different things. Visitation allows a third party to have visitation rights with a child they have a documented close relationship with—this typically applies to family members who had previously been kept from seeing the child by one or both parents. However, the parents retain parenting time and legal decision-making authority.

By contrast, a third-party adoption gives all parenting time and legal decision-making authority to someone other than the biological parents of the child. The person will then act in the interest of the child concerning medical care, schooling, religion, and other legal matters. They also take responsibility for the child’s life and must provide care for the child. This is a permanent decision that does not expire.

Third-party adoption takes place in a series of steps.

Placement with the Petitioner

Gaining legal custody or demonstrating dependence of the child is the first step in pursuing a third-party adoption in Arizona. This can be difficult, as it must be proven that the third party stands in loco parentis of the child. The third party must also show proof of the inability of the parents to care for the child and that the child may be being neglected or otherwise harmed. The petitioner and everyone in the petitioner’s home must also complete fingerprinting, submit to a federal criminal history record search, and submit to a DCS record search.

If the above-listed conditions for third-party child custody are met, the child or children can reside with the petitioner. The petitioner is then responsible for parenting and legal decision-making for that child or children. After six months, the petitioner can then petition for third-party adoption.

During this stage, petitioners must submit the following:

  • Adoptive Placement Agreement
  • Application for Adoption
  • DHS Certificate of Adoption, first two portions

Filing Final Petition Documents

For the Arizona family court to finalize the adoption, the petitioner must submit the following documents:

  • Social Study Report (at least ten days prior to the final hearing)
  • Communication Document
  • Current federal criminal history record or fingerprinting document
  • DCS registry records check document (results reviewed within 24 hours of the hearing)
  • Original Consent of Department to Adoption
  • Petition to Adopt
  • DHS Certificate of Adoption in full

Filing a petition for adoption with the courts is the next step necessary for adopting the child, but this must occur after the required six months. However, expedited adoption is possible if the child, the parent, or the petitioner have a debilitating or terminal illness; if the child is 16, free for adoption, and consents to the adoption; or if the court finds that there are other special circumstances.

The petitioner must also show notice of any proceedings and a copy of the petition to the following parties:

  • The legal parents of the child
  • The guardian or guardian ad litem(“GAL”) of the child
  • Any third party with decision-making authority for the child
  • Any agency or person who retains the child’s physical custody
  • Any person who has claims to decision-making authority for the child
  • Any other party who has appeared previously in any actions for the child

If the parents don’t object to any filings, custody rights go much more swiftly. If they do, parental rights must be terminated for the proceedings to continue. Additionally, the court cannot have made a ruling within the past year regarding legal decision-making for the child. Because Arizona doesn’t allow for shared custody between legal parents and third parties, all the requirements to terminate the parental rights must be met before proceeding.

Court Hearing and Finalization

After the Petition to Adopt has been filed, the court will provide written notification of a hearing date. Testimony regarding the biological parents’ fitness to parent (if the parents are contesting the removal of their rights), as well as the fitness of the petitioner, will be heard by the court. Information regarding the child’s best interests and why remaining with the petitioner is in the child’s best interests will be used to make the final decision. If the adoption is approved, the Order of Adoption will be submitted with the date of finalization.

Arizona Third-Party Adoption Rights: FAQs

If you have been considering establishing 3rd party adoption rights in AZ, these frequently asked questions can help you get started with the process.

Do Stepparents Have Any Custody Rights

Q: Do Stepparents Have Any Custody Rights?

While a stepparent may have been acting as a parent during the full course of a marriage, they, unfortunately, retain no legal rights to a child unless they have completed legal adoption for the child. This, however, doesn’t mean that visitation rights wouldn’t be in the best interest of the child in the event of a divorce. The same could be said for third-party adoption. If a stepparent feels that they can prove the inability of the legal parent to care for the child, then they may begin the adoption process to terminate the legal parent’s rights and gain legal decision-making authority for the child.

Q: Do Grandparents Have Custody Rights in AZ?

A: Under appropriate circumstances, grandparents and even great-grandparents have visitation as well as custody rights. Grandparents must apply for third-party visitation or custody by understanding AZ family court facts.

Q: How Do I Get Custody of My Niece in Arizona?

A: The first step is to understand all the criteria that must be met to initiate a third-party adoption and apply for placement. Submitting background check requirements, filing a Petition to Adopt with the courts, and submitting a petition fee is the next major step. Finally, the court will conduct an adoption hearing to determine whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child and potentially finalize the Adoption Decree.

Q: What Are the Requirements for Adopting a Child in Arizona?

A: One of the basic requirements for adoption in Arizona is that the petitioner must be at least 18 years of age. The petitioner, as well as any other adults in the household, must also be able to pass a local criminal background check as well as a federal background check and DCS search. As always, the adoption must be determined to be in the best interests of the child.

Q: How Do I Know If I’m Eligible to Adopt a Child in Arizona?

A: To be eligible to adopt a child in Arizona, you must:

  • Meet the minimum age requirement of 18
  • Own or rent an apartment or home
  • Be able to pass local and federal criminal background checks
  • Pass a DCS records search
  • Own a Level 1 Fingerprint Clearance Card that has been issued by the Department of Public Safety in Arizona

Q: What Are the Rights of the Birth Parents in Arizona?

A: While both parents must consent to place a child in someone else’s care, that doesn’t necessarily terminate any contact they may have with the child in the future. Different types of adoptions allow varying levels of contact between biological parents and children, and you can decide the level of contact you are comfortable with. Additionally, for a third-party adoption to take place, parental rights must first be terminated before a new custody arrangement can be awarded or established. Parental rights are protected under the 14th Amendment, and the courts take this very seriously.

Q: How Much Does It Cost to Adopt a Child in Arizona?

A: The final amount it costs to adopt a child in Arizona depends on several factors. First, it depends on whether a party goes through an agency. You’ll likely have to pay agency fees that are determined by the agency itself. If parental rights must first be terminated, lawyer fees and court costs apply. Other expenses, such as travel costs and living expenses, are often a factor as well, so costs to adopt may be as high as $50,000.

Q: What Are the Resources Available to Adoptive Families in Arizona?

A: There are a variety of resources available to adoptive families in Arizona. Various governmental agencies can assist adoptive families, as well as religious resources, advocacy and information resources, and support groups. Depending on the location of the family, additional region-specific resources may be available.

Legal Documents for Third-Party Adoption Rights in AZ

A third-party adoption, like any adoption, is a decision the Arizona court never takes lightly. As a result, the court considers a variety of critical factors before impacting a child and family’s lives forever. For that reason, before proceeding with a third-party adoption, consider any requirements to make sure it is the best option possible for the child.

If you are considering establishing 3rd party adoption rights in AZ or need more information about how to proceed with a case, Draft My Legal Docs is here to help you ensure you have all the necessary documentation for an AZ legal case. Whether it’s offering guidance, providing facts and figures, or giving advice on necessary paperwork, we can find the answers. We assist with proper procedures that allow you to not just narrowly drift pass legal obstacles but absolutely thrive during the legal process.

Legal Document Services for Arizona Court

Preparing for a Family Court Case in AZ

Arizona family law cases can become extremely complex, as they often deal with intense emotions, personal struggles, disagreements, or discord among family members and spouses. If you decide to represent yourself in Arizona family court, it’s essential that you prepare well in advance for the various legal aspects involved. If you wait until the day of your hearing, you risk becoming blindsided by these roadblocks—you may even endanger your case by neglecting the various documents you’ll need to complete.

Here’s everything you need to know about family court in Arizona and what you can do to prepare yourself for the legal proceedings ahead.

What Is Arizona Family Court?

Arizona family court is a specialized court of law created to handle cases dealing with family and domestic relations, otherwise known as family law. One of its main priorities is to help settle disputes that occur within families and find solutions that work for all parties. Common AZ family court questions are related to divorces, separations, spousal maintenance claims, child custody disputes, property division proceedings, child support matters, adoptions, paternity disputes, and more.

How Does a Family Court Case Work in Arizona?

Legal Document Services for Arizona Court

While the precise workings of a family court hearing will vary depending on the type of case you’re filing, conducting hearings and trials in family court generally proceeds in five steps.

1. Trial Preparation

Before entering the trial preparation phase, you’ll need to begin your case by filling out an initiation form that matches your case type. For example, you may need to file a petition for legal separation, a petition for dissolution of marriage, a petition to establish child support, or something else. From there, you will be assigned a court date when your hearing will take place and you’ll enter the trial preparation phase.

Your court date will take place according to the time available on the court’s calendar, and you will receive a slot on the docket when the judge has time to hear your case. This can take time, and you’ll want to spend most of it preparing to represent yourself. You should determine your goals and objectives for your case, locate and complete all documents required for your specific type of case, and gather evidence that will support your argument. For example, you may need financial documents, affidavits from childcare providers, doctors’ statements, and more.

2. Trial Begins—Opening Arguments Shared

Once your trial date finally arrives, it will begin with both parties sharing their opening arguments with the petitioner—the party that initiated the case—going first. The purpose of opening arguments is for both parties to outline their respective positions on a matter for the court without interruption or argument from the other side. If you choose to represent yourself, you should add the preparation of your arguments to your trial preparation list.

3. Evidence and Witnesses Are Presented

After the opening arguments are presented from both sides, the judge will ask to hear evidence backing each party’s position. Again, the petitioner will go first. This is where most of the preparation you did will be critical, as you’ll need to make a convincing, effective argument to win your case.

Your argument must be backed by a preponderance of evidence, which can be presented via witness testimonies, legal documents, records, photographs, video, and more. After the petitioner calls and questions a witness, the respondent can cross-examine. When the petitioner has finished calling witnesses and presenting evidence, the respondent can do the same. At this time, the respondent can cross-examine.

4. Closing Arguments

After all evidence has been presented and all witnesses that were listed have testified, the closing arguments of both sides will then be made in court. Closing arguments are used to reiterate the argument of both parties, summarize the evidence that backs their claim, and try one last time to convince the judge to choose their side. At this time, the judge may ask any questions they have that are applicable to the case.

5. Final Decision

When closing arguments are complete, the case will then be submitted to the judge so they can make a final decision. It’s possible that the judge may make their decision immediately after closing arguments, but it’s common for a judge to review evidence in their chambers before deciding. In cases with complex documentation and financial histories, including division of property and child support cases, the judge may take time to review the documents and announce the decision later. When the judge makes their decision, they will deliver it to the court, and the case will be closed.

Being Prepared for an Arizona Family Trial

When it comes to representing yourself in court, it is critical to prepare well for your hearing. You must be able to present a convincing argument to the judge, back that argument with evidence or witness testimony, and respond to the opposing side’s evidence. In addition, you’ll need to prepare a variety of legal documents and file them properly by the expected date. Without adequate preparation, your chances of success are severely diminished.

Just a few of the ways preparing for your trial can benefit you and your case include the following.

Helps You Develop a Strong Argument

One of the most critical aspects of trial preparation is developing a solid argument that will help you secure the judge’s decision. You need ample time to determine your goals for the case, decide what argument you will present, and assess how you will convince the judge. Ask yourself questions like, “What do I want out of this case?” and “What is the best possible outcome for me?” Once you have created a strong argument, you can then move on to backing it up.

Gives You Time to Gather Evidence

Sometimes, gathering evidence can take a significant amount of time, especially if your case involves finances or an exhaustive records search. Preparing for your trial as soon as possible is the best way to give yourself enough time to gather the evidence you need. If you are looking to use witness testimony, it’s also crucial to speak with them as soon as you are able.

You Can Complete and File All Required Paperwork

Each family court case requires different legal forms, all of which must be filed correctly and in a timely manner. For example, a divorce case must include a formal petition for dissolution of marriage filed by one spouse and then legally served to the other. If there is no initial petition, a couple cannot get divorced. If you begin preparing for your trial early, you can give yourself enough time to identify the required documents you need for your case and complete and file them properly.

You’ll Know What to Expect

Taking the time to properly prepare for your trial can also help you get a better idea of what to expect when the proceedings begin. Court proceedings can be intimidating for anyone, but they can be especially nerve-wracking when you’re representing yourself. With proper preparation, you can learn how the court process works, what to expect, and how to deliver a compelling argument confidently.

Tips to Prepare Yourself for Arizona Family Court

Arizona Family Court

Some of the best things you can do to get ready for your upcoming Arizona family court case include the following:

Gather Documents

There is no such thing as being over prepared for a family court case. If you are representing yourself, make sure you plan as thoroughly as possible for each phase of your upcoming case. Plan your arguments, plan what you’ll ask witnesses, plan how you will present your opening arguments, and plan how you can effectively convince the judge of your position. The more time you take to plan your case, the smoother it will go.

Organize Documents

No matter what your family law case involves, you’ll need to complete and file a variety of legal documents throughout your trial. It’s vital that you keep your documents organized so that when they are needed, you can quickly present them. It’s recommended to keep documents for evidence, such as printed records, separate from documents you may be reading and documents you’ll need to file with the court. If you’re disorganized, it can make your case more difficult than it needs to be—and may also have a negative effect on your case.

Identify Strong Evidence

Making sure that you have convincing evidence to back your claims in court is crucial. Without evidence, there’s an extremely low chance you’ll be able to convince the court to take your position, especially if your case is a complex dispute. Taking the time to gather pieces of evidence and witnesses that can back your claim will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Secure Opening and Closing Arguments

Your opening and closing arguments play critical roles in your case. Because they are the first and last words a judge will hear from you, you’ll want to take the time to make sure you form an argument that’s efficient, convincing, and memorable. Your opening argument should clearly state your position and tell a story through facts that help the audience better understand how you plan to outline your case. Your closing argument should include a summary of your evidence, critiques of any holes in the other party’s case, and an overall conclusion of your argument that convinces the audience of your position.

Prepare Witnesses

If your case involves calling any witnesses to testify, it is important to make sure they are prepared for trial as well. However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t rehearse with the witness to the point where your witness begins to recite answers; otherwise, it can look like witness tampering. Make sure your witness is comfortable, ask them some questions, and help them understand how the trial will go, and your witness will be adequately prepared.

Documents You May Need for AZ Family Court Case

We provide a wide variety of legal forms and documents for residents of Arizona. When you’re going through a family law case, you’ll need to complete paperwork before, during, and after your case.

To Initiate Your Case

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (with or without Minor Children): These are the official forms that must be filed if you decide that you want to get divorced in AZ.
  • Petition to Enforce: This form is often used to initiate a case where one party hasn’t been following a court-ordered agreement.
  • Petition to Modify: If you want to request a modification to a previous court order, you need to file this form to initiate your case.
  • Petition to Establish: These petitions can be used to initiate multiple kinds of family court cases, including paternity, child custody, and child support cases.

During Your Case

  • Petition for Temporary Order: If you’re waiting for the judge’s final decision and believe you need a temporary order in place until that decision is made, you’ll need to file this document.
  • Property Settlement Agreement: These agreements are used to clearly establish how property and other assets will be divided and show that both parties consent.
  • Rule 69 Agreement: When two parties involved in a case reach an agreement, they need to legally confirm it by filing this document with the court.

After Your Case

  • Motion for Clarification: After a trial ends, you can file a Motion for Clarification to have the order clarified or corrected if some aspects are unclear.
  • Notice of Appeal: If you don’t agree with the final decision regarding your case, you have 30 days to file an appeal to have it reviewed.
  • Motion for Relief (from a Judgement or Order): If you have a legally justified reason, you may be able to file this document to request relief from a previously filed court order.

Legal Document Services for Arizona Family Court

Legal Document Services for Arizona Court


Draft My Legal Docs is pleased to offer legal document drafting and preparation services to help Arizona residents successfully navigate their court proceedings. As trained Arizona attorneys, we understand how complex family courts can become. To help, we offer a full slate of 50+ legal documents to assist you throughout your family law case.

The complex nature of family law cases is why we are so dedicated to providing the help you need to ensure your case is handled properly. Whether you’re looking to initiate a legal case or preparing for an upcoming trial, contact us today to see how our legal document services can help.


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