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.

Grandparent Rights in Wisconsin: Can I File an Action?

Sad senior couple in  parkIn Wisconsin, grandparents may be afforded the legal right to have visitation with their grandchildren. The process to obtain these rights may be difficult, therefore it is helpful to have an attorney navigate you through this process.

When the parents have been married, and have subsequently divorced, grandparents may request “reasonable visitation rights” in the existing family law action. In order to be successful in this type of action, the grandparent must successfully demonstrate three factors: (1) he/she has maintained a parent-child relationship with a child, (2) the child’s wishes to have a relationship with the grandparent, and (3) the visitation with the grandparent is found to be in the child’s best interest.

When the parents are unmarried, the grandparent may file an independent suit or petition if they have maintained a relationship with the child or have attempted to do so, but were prevented from having a relationship with the child by the child’s custodial parent. In these cases, there must be a determination of who is the father of the child (a paternity determination). If the requirements are met, then the court will consider other factors, such as the best interest of the child, the wishes of the child, and whether the grandparent will abide by decisions made by the child’s parents concerning the child’s “physical, emotional, educational or spiritual welfare,” if that grandparent is afforded visitation rights.

There are also other actions available to grandparents seeking visitation when one or both parents are deceased or when the biological grandchild has been adopted. Nelson, Krueger and Millenbach, LLC does not handle guardianship cases or adoption cases, so if this is your situation, you should seek advice from an attorney experienced in these areas of the law.

If you wish to speak with an attorney regarding grandparents rights in a divorce action or in a paternity matter, please contact Nelson, Krueger and Millenbach, LLC, at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free half-hour consultation.