Wisconsin Supreme Court Resolves Issues Regarding Grandparents and Stepparents Rights

Grandparents And Granddaughter Walking On Winter BeachUntil recently, Wisconsin case law supported an interpretation of Wis. Stat. § 767.43(1) that required a grandparent, great-grandparent, or stepparent to prove “a parent-like relationship” with the child in order to secure visitation rights. However, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin’s ruling in the recently decided Meister* case made it clear that only a person other than a grandparent, or stepparent filing a motion for visitation must prove “a parent-like relationship.”

The Court, through this decision, eliminated an additional and unintended barrier for grandparents and stepparents who are seeking visitation rights. This change in the interpretation of the law will open the door to more grandparents, great-grandparents and stepparents who wish to seek visitation rights. Regardless of this barrier being eliminated, it does not guarantee that the grandparents or stepparents will prevail. The Court must “consider the constitutional rights of the parents” and “decide, in its sound discretion, whether the facts and circumstances of the case warrant granting, modifying, or denying a visitation petition in the best interest of the child.”

It is important to note that the above applies to children born to married parents. For children of unmarried (and subsequently never married) parents, the visitation statute still requires that a grandparent or stepparent show they have “maintained a relationship with the child or have attempted to maintain a relationship with the child but have been prevented from doing so by a parent who has legal custody of the child.” Again, however, this type of relationship does not have to be “parent-like” in nature.

If you are a grandparent, great-grandparent or stepparent seeking visitation rights of a child, it is important that you have an attorney navigate you through this evolving area of the law. If you wish to speak with an attorney at our office, please call 414-258-1644 for a free ½ hour office consultation.
* In re the Marriage of Meister, Nancy and Jay. 2016 WI 22.

8 thoughts on “Wisconsin Supreme Court Resolves Issues Regarding Grandparents and Stepparents Rights

  1. Does this mean grandparents who want visitation of grandchildren who are in an intact home has changed? Can a grandparent petition for visitation if no divorce/action concerning the family is taking place?

    • The new law simply makes it easier for grandparents to seek visitation in a divorce situation. However, there must be a pending divorce action. The right of the parents to make decisions over their children is held to an extremely high standard by the courts. Therefore, the answer to your question is that no, you cannot petition for visitation if there is no pending divorce.

  2. What do you do when u had your grandchildren living with you for 3 months, uprooted your entire life for the safety and welfare of them,(due to a parent being on drugs ), moved, paid for EVERYTHING that they needed,(WITHOUT any help from the state ), and ithey could have their own rooms,and close to their school ,(because they’d been through so much already), the state comes in,and take them away,saying they aren’t safe? How do you fight the state for visitation??????

  3. My daughter passed away 9 weeks ago, her and her 2 children 2 yrs and 4 yrs gave been living with me since day one of both there lives after she passed both children went to there fathers
    the father of the 4 yr hasn’t paid one penny in child support not a dime and has seen him maybe twice in the last year athers, the father of my granddaughter first of all denied her for the first 6 months of her life and then has only played s very small part in her life but has nog seen her in months ANF months and pats child support only when being threatened with jail time, neither fathers are allowing me or any of our side of the family to see them. Do I have the right

    • Absolutely! I am very sorry to hear about your daughter. Not only do you have grandparent visitation rights, you should be trying to obtain primary placement through a permanent guardianship or even an adoption. I urge you to consult with an attorney who practices in those areas right away. It is important you address this immediately.

  4. Hello. I met my wife while she was 2 months pregnant a girl another mans baby. Fast forward to today. She is now 4 year old. I’ve been with her since day 1. My wife and her biological dad have 50/50 placement. If we were to divorce, does this mean I could petition for some sort of visitation rights for my step child? Possibly even get visitation granted?

    • Third party visitation is complicated but if you have a “parent like relationship” with the minor child, you could be granted periods of placement. You should consult with an experienced family law attorney. Good luck.

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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