Grandparent Rights

Child Custody Attorneys Representing Milwaukee Residents

In Wisconsin, as in other states, family courts are increasingly grappling with questions of custody and child welfare when children are being raised in non-traditional households. While custody disputes still predominantly involve parents, people with other relationships to a child are starting to participate in them more often. For example, grandparents often are invested in the welfare of their grandchildren and want to retain the right to visit with them and be a part of their lives. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, Milwaukee child custody lawyer Terese J. Singer can advise grandparents regarding their rights and abilities to participate in these proceedings.

Grandparent Visitation Rights in Wisconsin

Under Wisconsin Statute 767.43, grandparents have a right to petition the court for visitation rights for grandchildren. Until recently, under the wording of the statute, many people believed that grandparents were required to show that they had a “parent-child” type of relationship in order to successfully petition for visitation. In a 2016 case, however, the Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified that this is not accurate. In S.A.M. v. Meister, Ms. Meister petitioned the court for the right to visit her grandchildren after her son divorced. She lived in a different state from them at the time, and the lower courts held that her relationship was not sufficiently similar to a parent-child relationship to qualify for visitation. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute only requires people who are not grandparents, great-grandparents, or stepparents to prove this type of relationship when petitioning for visitation. Such proof is not required for grandparents.

However, Wisconsin courts continue to give significant deference to the rights of parents to determine what is in the best interest of their child in terms of visitation. Thus, grandparents may still face an uphill battle if one or both of the child’s parents object to grandparent visitation. Additionally, the wishes of the child must also be considered in evaluating a petition for visitation.

When May Grandparents Petition for Visitation?

Grandparents seeking visitation may only assert their rights during or after a legal action that affects the whole family. This includes proceedings such as divorce, custody modifications, or annulment. When a grandparent petitions for visitation, the court may grant the petition as long as a legal action has recently occurred, the parents have notice of the petition, and the court determines that the petition is in the best interests of the family.

If grandparents have been cut off from visitation with their grandchildren, but no legal action involving the entire family has recently occurred, grandparents have little legal recourse for asserting their grandparent rights, since they may not petition the court to confirm their visitation rights under these circumstances. When this happens, it is important for grandparents to continue to act in a manner that does not interfere with the existing parent-child relationship and to continue to act in a manner that is best for the child. If an eventual petition for visitation rights is filed, the court will likely take a close look at the grandparent’s actions throughout the history of the relationship.

Consult a Milwaukee Lawyer for a Child Custody Matter

Child custody and visitation issues are deeply emotional topics that may elicit frustration and uncertainty. While grandparents have rights to see their grandchildren, these rights are typically secondary to the input and opinions of the parents, and they must be subject to the best interests of the child. If you have grandchildren who are involved or are likely to be involved in a divorce dispute, custody proceeding, or annulment, you can consult Milwaukee child custody attorney Terese J. Singer. She also represents people in Racine, West Bend, Port Washington, Mequon, Waukesha, and other communities throughout Milwaukee, Racine, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha Counties. Call us at (414) 271-6400 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with a family law attorney.