Cody’s legal parents,Brandy Jo Riepe (“Mother”) and David Allen Riepe (“Father”), were divorced in 2000. Father and Stepmother married in May 2001. Father died in a traffic accident in November 2001. Prior to and during her marriage with Father, Stepmother spent a significant amount of time with Cody. Mother also was involved with Cody and paid child support to Father. After Father died, Cody began living with Mother. Mother did not allow contact between Stepmother and Cody, and Stepmother therefore filed a petition for in loco parentis visitation pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-415(C).
The superior court found that Stepmother failed to carry her burden of proving that she stood in loco parentis to the child. The court denied the petition and this appeal followed.
Under A.R.S. § 25-415(C), can a widowed stepmother have loco parentis visitation when the stepchild enjoyed good relationships with both legal parents before the father’s death and his legal mother currently parents the child?
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court decision and remanded the case back with further instructions. The trial court misinterpreted the meaning of in loco parentis as defined by A.R.S. Â§ 25-415(C).
Under A.R.S. § 25-415(C), Stepmother was a non-parent seeking visitation. She was not required to prove that her relationship with Cody either replaced the child’s relationship with his legal parents or was better than the child’s relationship with his legal parents. In addition to determining that visitation is in the best interests of the child, the appellate court stated “to establish in loco parentis status, a non-parent must prove that the child (1) treated that person as a parent and (2) formed a meaningful parental relationship with that person for a substantial period of time.” Even though Cody “enjoyed parental relationships” with both his mother and father, and even though Cody “maintains a meaningful parental relationship” with his mother, Stepmother’s petition for visitation as a non-parent stepmother in loco parentis could still be granted.