In re the Marriage of Lisa J. Friedman, Petitioner/Appellant, and David C. Roels Jr., Respondent, Claudia Roels and David C. Roels Sr., Intervenors/Appellees.
from the Superior Court in Pima County No. D20103718 The
Honorable Alyce L. Pennington, Judge Pro Tempore
Wyland, Tucson Counsel for Petitioner/Appellant
M. Schauf, PLLC, Tucson By Susan M. Schauf Counsel for
Espinosa authored the opinion of the Court, in which Judge
Miller concurred and Presiding Judge Staring dissented.
Lisa Friedman appeals the trial court's decision to grant
visitation rights to the paternal grandparents of her two
children. She contends the court failed to accord sufficient
weight to the presumption that her decision to deny
visitation was in the children's best interests,
effectively shifting the burden of proof to require her to
prove visitation was not in their best interests. For the
reasons that follow, we affirm.
and Procedural Background
We view the record in the light most favorable to upholding
the trial court's decision. Johnson v. Johnson,
131 Ariz. 38, 44, 638 P.2d 705, 711 (1981). Lisa Friedman and
David Roels Jr. married in 2001 and have two minor children:
M., born in 2003, and R., born in 2005. The couple separated
informally in March 2010, following an incident in which
Roels "went into a rage" and was admitted to a
psychiatric facility with suicidal ideation. Friedman
petitioned for legal separation in September 2010, and for
dissolution of the marriage in May 2011. She and Roels signed
a consent decree of dissolution in July 2011.
Roels has had supervised parenting time since the separation.
He had no legal decision making authority over the children
until August 2015, when he and Friedman agreed that while
Friedman would retain "final decision making authority,
" she would consult with Roels on non-emergency matters.
The children received counseling beginning in June 2010 and
participated in several family therapy sessions with Roels in
2012, 2013, and 2015. He had been abusive at times during the
marriage, including yelling and losing his temper, and
"kicking [M.] once" and "holding him and
grabbing him once."
In April 2014, paternal grandparents David Roels Sr. and
Claudia Roels (Grandparents) filed a petition pursuant to
A.R.S. § 25-409 to obtain court-ordered visitation. The
trial court entered a temporary order allowing them to
participate in Roels's supervised parenting time for a
minimum of one hour per month. At that time, they had not
spoken to the children in nearly four years, at
The trial court conducted a two-day hearing in August 2015.
Grandparents testified that before the parents'
separation, they had enjoyed a close relationship with the
children. They had attended M.'s birth and met R. a week
after hers and frequently travelled to Tucson to attend
school and sports activities and spend time with the family.
On two occasions, they had provided child care during the day
for multiple-day periods and were a regular presence in the
children's lives. After the separation, Friedman cut off
Grandparents' access to the children and insisted there
be no contact between them. Grandparents, however, attempted
to maintain contact by sending the children cards and gifts
for their birthdays and holidays.
The children were initially averse to reuniting with their
grandparents: Roels testified that when he first had spoken
to them about the visits, M. had stated he "d[id]n't
want [Grandparents] to come." After the first visit,
however, "there just wasn't any apprehension or . .
. tension." Delana Cota, a family support specialist who
supervised the first visit, described the children's
initial reaction to their grandparents as "quiet"
and "awkward, " but recognized that "the mood
of the visit elevated . . . [and] [b]ecame more
comfortable." When Grandparents left, Cota overheard M.
and R. discussing the visit and heard R. ask M., "Do you
agree with me, it was good with grandparents, " to which
M. said, "Pretty nervous about nothing." R. then
responded, "You would be fine if they came again, are
you with me . . . I like them coming."
Bethany Aaronson, another independent visit supervisor,
testified that Grandparents planned extensively for their
court-ordered visits and the children appeared to enjoy them.
She characterized the visits as "very successful"
and noted that when Grandparents were around, the activities
were more structured and there was "more laughing, more
kidding around" and everyone was "a little more
involved and engaged." In contrast, Aaronson described
visits with only Roels as "unstructured" with
"[t]he children often spending] a lot of time looking at
their devices." But when Grandparents were present,
"the children engaged with the activities, and as a
result . . . then began engaging with the adults." On
one occasion, "the children spontaneously got up and
hugged [Grandparents] a second time before they left."
Friedman and two therapists testified the children had
anxiety and PTSD symptoms both during and outside the
supervised visits. Beth Winters, the children's former
therapist who had never met or evaluated Grandparents, opined
that the children "could have been" exhibiting
behavior "indicat[iv]e . . . [of] trauma" due to
Grandparents' visitation, but acknowledged that the
children's awareness of their mother's feelings
toward their grandparents could have influenced them. She
also agreed that it is "important for children to have
grandparents in their lives." Karen Morse, the
children's other therapist, similarly testified they had
been "traumatized]" in the past, but were improving
as of October 2014. Morse, who also had never met or
evaluated Grandparents, concluded that news of court-ordered
grandparent visits had caused the children to become more
anxious, and opined that they experienced trauma during
The trial court found the expert opinions to be of limited
usefulness, and in a detailed under-advisement ruling, after
considering all relevant evidence, "including the
demeanor and credibility of the parties, " determined it
was in the children's best interests to have visitation
with their grandparents. The court entered an order entitling
Grandparents to video calls with the children every two weeks
and allowing them to participate in portions of Roels's
supervised parenting time. Friedman filed a timely motion for new
trial, which the court denied, and this appeal of the denial
of the motion for new trial followed. We have jurisdiction
pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-2101(A)(5).
Friedman contends the trial court erred in awarding
Grandparents visitation despite Friedman, as the
children's "only fit parent, " having
determined the visits were contrary to the children's
best interests. We review the decision to award grandparent
visitation for an abuse of discretion. McGovern v.
McGovern, 201 Ariz. 172, ¶ 6, 33 P.3d 506, 509
Section 25-409(C), A.R.S., provides "a person other than
a legal parent may petition the superior court for visitation
with a child" and the court "may grant visitation
rights during the child's minority on a finding that the
visitation is in the child's best interests and . . .
[f]or grandparent or great-grandparent visitation, the
marriage of the parents has been dissolved for at least three
months." Subsection (E) further states:
In deciding whether to grant visitation to a third party, the
court shall give special weight to the legal parents'
opinion of what serves their child's best interests and