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 The Honorable Alyce L.
Pennington, Judge Pro Tempore No. D20103718
of the Court of Appeals, Division Two 242 Ariz. 463 (App.
Wyland (argued), Wyland Law, P.C., Tucson, Attorney for Lisa
M. Schauf (argued), Susan M. Schauf, PLLC, Tucson, Attorney
for Claudia Roels and David C. Roels, Sr.
JUSTICE PELANDER authored the opinion of the Court, in which
CHIEF JUSTICE BALES, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE BRUTINEL, and
JUSTICES TIMMER, BOLICK, GOULD, and LOPEZ joined.
Under Arizona's third-party-visitation statute, the
superior court may grant visitation rights to a person other
than a child's legal parent upon a finding that
"visitation is in the child's best interests."
A.R.S. § 25-409(C). In making that discretionary
determination, the court "shall give special weight to
the legal parents' opinion of what serves their
child's best interests." § 25-409(E). We hold
that when two legal parents disagree about whether visitation
is in their child's best interests, both parents'
opinions are entitled to special weight under §
25-409(E). We further hold that under those circumstances,
neither parent is entitled to a presumption in his or her
favor and the parents' conflicting opinions must give way
to the court's finding on whether visitation is in the
child's best interests.
We view the record in the light most favorable to supporting
the family court's visitation order. See Johnson v.
Johnson, 131 Ariz. 38, 44 (1981). Lisa Friedman
("Mother") and David Roels, Jr.
("Father") married in 2001, had two children
together (M., born in 2003, and R., born in 2005), informally
separated in 2010, and divorced in 2011. Under the
dissolution decree, Mother obtained sole custody of, and
legal decision-making for, the children, but Father was
entitled to supervised parenting time for two four-hour
periods every week. The supervision requirement was partly
based on Father's hospitalization for psychiatric issues
and his abusive behavior toward the children, which included
kicking M. at least once. After Mother and Father separated,
the children began seeing various therapists for
post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety-related
issues. Father attended some of the children's therapy
Before Mother and Father's divorce, Father's parents,
David Roels, Sr. and Claudia Roels
("Grandparents"), were involved in the
children's lives, attended their sports practices and
other special events, and provided child care. After Mother
and Father separated, however, Grandparents had almost no
contact with the children for nearly four years, largely
because Mother obstructed Grandparents' attempted
interaction by, for example, withholding gifts and cards they
sent the children, refusing to accept Grandparents'
certified mail, and not responding to their emails.
In April 2014, Grandparents sought to re-establish their
relationship with the children by filing a petition for
visitation pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-409(C). In December,
the family court entered a temporary order allowing
Grandparents to participate in Father's supervised visits
for one hour per month. Pursuant to that order, Grandparents
saw the children monthly for eight one-hour sessions between
January and August 2015. Supervisory staff who documented
those visits described Grandparents as being "well
received" by the children and their interaction as warm
and affectionate, and noted Grandparents' remarkable
preparation for their visits. The children were more engaged
in the visits when Grandparents were present, which also
seemed to improve the children's interactions with
The trial on Grandparents' visitation petition occurred
over two days in August 2015. On the morning of the
trial's first day, Mother and Father stipulated to a
parenting plan (the "Parenting Plan") that gave
each parent joint legal decision-making authority, with
Mother having "final legal decision making"
authority if they disagreed. When Mother and Father presented
the Parenting Plan to the family court for approval, Father
stated, without objection by Mother, that the Parenting Plan
did not contain "an agreement on ... whether or not his
parents can be present at his parenting time."
At trial, Mother, Father, and Grandparents testified and
presented testimony from other witnesses. Two therapists whom
Mother called - Beth Winters and Karen Morse - testified that
visitation with Grandparents exacerbated the children's
PTSD and anxiety. Both therapists acknowledged, however, that
their opinions were partly based on "selected"
visitation reports Mother provided, and they had difficulty
explaining why visitation would harm the children. Mother
also testified that she believed visitation would be harmful
to her children's mental health and would compromise
their relationship with Father. But Mother later conceded
that the children struggled with anxiety before
Grandparents' visitation began.
Father and Grandparents presented testimony from staff who
supervised Grandparents' visitation with the children.
Those witnesses described the visits as positive and warm.
Father testified about having been diagnosed with severe
depression and explained his treatment for that condition.
Father also expressed his belief that visitation would
benefit the children and that "it's important [for
them] to have their own relationship" with Grandparents.
Grandparents testified about their efforts to resume their
relationship with the children, characterized the court's
preliminary visitation order as "a miracle, " and
explained that their primary focus was "just to keep
spending time with the children" because they "love
them very much." As for any impact visitation would have
on the children's relationship with Father, Grandparents
explained that they would be willing to "work that out
with him" because "his time with [the] children is
The family court granted Grandparents' visitation
petition. In its ruling, the court made extensive findings of
fact, explained its reasoning in detail, and specified the
nature and amount of Grandparents' visitation. After
stating that it gave "deference to Mother's
position" and "accept[ed] and... applie[d] the
[rebuttable] presumption that Mother has and shall continue
to make decisions that are in the children's best
interests, " the court found that "it is in the
children's best interests that grandparents have
visitation with the children." The court also found that
Mother was "motivated by a desire to exclude the
grandparents in part because of her relationship with
them" and that Mother's witnesses based their
opinions on limited information and did not clearly explain
how they arrived at certain conclusions. Finally, the court
found that Grandparents had a warm, bonding relationship with
the children and were motivated to seek visitation "by a
desire to influence the children in a positive way [and to]
love, nurture and care for the children."
In a split decision, the court of appeals affirmed, reasoning
that Father's opinion on visitation, not only
Mother's, was entitled to "special weight"
under Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000)
(plurality), and A.R.S. § 25-409(E) because he "was
not found to be an unfit parent." In re Marriage of
Friedman & Roels, 242 Ariz. 463, 466-67 ¶ 12,
468 ¶ 18 (App. 2017). The court concluded that the
family court "applied the proper standards in awarding
visitation to Grandparents." Id. at 468 ¶
19. Addressing Mother's and the dissent's assertion
that Goodman v. Forsen, 239 Ariz. 110 (App. 2016),
retroactively applied and contravened the family court's
ruling, the court of appeals found that case
"significantly distinguishable" and declined to
"extend its holding to the very different situation
presented here." Friedman, 242 Ariz, at 468-69
¶¶ 20-21. Ultimately, the court ruled that the
family court did not abuse its discretion in granting
"limited visitation" to Grandparents because they
"demonstrated that [Mother]'s decision to bar them
from visitation was not in the children's best
interests." Id. at 469 ¶ 22.
We granted review because this case presents recurring issues
of statewide importance - the intersection of parents'
constitutional rights regarding their children and
Arizona's statutory scheme relating to grandparents'
claimed visitation rights. We have jurisdiction under article
6, section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. §
We review the interpretation of statutes and constitutional
issues de novo. Brenda D. v. Deft of Child Safety,
243 Ariz. 437, 442 ¶ 15 (2018). "If a statute's
language is subject to only one reasonable meaning, we apply
that meaning." Bell v. Indus. Comm'n of
Ariz., 236 Ariz. 478, 480 ¶ 7 (2015). And when
"statutes relate to the same subject, " we construe
them "together ... as though they constitute one
law" in order to "give effect to all the statutes
involved." Pima Cty. ex rel. Tucson v. Maya Const.
Co., 158 Ariz. 151, 155 (1998).
A.R.S. §§ 25-401 through -416 establish the
framework Arizona courts use to resolve legal decision-making
and parenting time issues relating to children in statutorily
defined circumstances. See A.R.S. § 25-402(B).
Relevant here is § 25-409, which addresses, among other
things, third-party visitation rights. That statute allows
"a person other than a legal parent" to
"petition the superior court for visitation with a
child, " and generally authorizes the court to
"grant visitation rights during the child's minority
on a finding that the visitation is in the child's best
interests." § 25-409(C). As amended in 2013, the
statute also provides that "[i]n 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 prescribes
a non-exhaustive list of "relevant factors" the
court shall consider. § 25-409(E). For ...