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For grandparents, what is the importance of "in loco parentis"?

Arizona law recognizes that, sometimes, children are raised by their grandparents or other relatives who are not their biological parents. In these sorts of situations, it may not be possible or prudent, for a variety of reasons, for grandparents to immediately run out and get a court order for grandparent custody, via a guardianship. As such, grandparents often raise their grandchildren without any legal authority whatsoever, at least until the child's parent is ready to resume his or her responsibilities.

Problems arise when the grandparents who have been caring for a child disagree with the parent that he or she is really ready to take on the parental role again. Unfortunately, without any order saying otherwise, a parent can simply take the child and leave, not even offering grandparents visitation.

Under the right circumstances, the grandparents can go to court and get what a court order for what the law calls legal "placement" of the child. The grandparents will have to show that they stand in loco parentis to the child, which is a fancy way of saying that they have provided enough of the child's care and support to show that they have truly acted as parental figures for their grandchildren.

There are several prerequisites a grandparent has to meet before he or she can attempt in loco parentis placement. Even if a grandparent does satisfy the preliminary requirements, they will have to prove convincingly that the child should not live with his or her parents, even to the point of showing that the parents may hurt the child.  The grandparent must be able to prove that "it would be significantly detrimental to the child to remain or be placed in the care of either legal prent who wishes to keep or acquire legal-decision making" not just that the child would be better off with the grandparent. 

While it is not right in all circumstances, an in loco parentis procedure may be a way for grandparents to protect their beloved grandchildren from foster care or, worse, an abusive home environment.

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