Grandparents who want to see their minor grandchildren over the objection of divorced parents face one less obstacle after an April Wisconsin Supreme Court decision. In In re the Marriage of Meister, #2014 AP 1283 (2016), the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled a grandmother did not have to show she had a “parent-child relationship” with her grandchildren before a court could issue a visitation schedule for them.

Carol Meister, the paternal grandmother of four grandchildren, filed a motion for grandparent visitation after the children’s mother, who had primary placement of the children, made changes to Carol’s visitation schedule with the children. Carol’s son, Jay, and his wife Nancy had previously divorced. The Meister grandchildren, through the guardian ad litem (an advocate for the child’s “best interest”), supported their grandmother’s motion, asserting that all other “persons” who file visitation motions under Section 767.43(1) should have to satisfy the “parent-child relationship” requirement, but not grandparents, great grandparents or stepparents.

Although grandparents whose children divorce usually see their grandchildren during the times that their child has placement with the grandchildren, situations exist where, for a variety of reasons, grandparents are denied visitation opportunities by one or both parents of the grandchildren, or are offered an opportunity more limited or restrictive than the grandparent believes is healthy for the grandchildren. Because family courts recognize that children frequently benefit from relationships with extended family members, the legislature established Section 767.43(1) to give courts the power to override the parents and establish a visitation schedule for grandparents, great grandparents or stepparents if the court determines that 1) the person filing the motion has satisfied each of the requirements of Section 767.43(1), 2) that setting a visitation schedule is in the children’s “best interest”.

At the heart of the Meister case was whether or not Wisconsin Statutes 767.43(1) requires every person who files a motion under Section 767.43(1) to demonstrate they have a “parent-child” relationship with the child, or if the statute imposed this requirement only on “persons” other than grandparents, great grandparents and stepparents. The Meister grandchildren, through their guardian ad litem, supported their grandmother’s motion, arguing that as a grandparent, she did not have to establish the “parent-child” relationship under Section 767.43(1). The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed, despite their mother’s opposition.

Although this decision may make it easier for grandparents, great grandparents and stepparents to obtain visitation orders, Carol Meister will unfortunately not benefit from the motion she filed because she passed away before the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its decision.

Grandparents, great grandparents, stepparents or other persons who have “parent-child relationships” with minor children and who experience difficulties in seeing minors should contact the family law attorneys at Hawks Quindel  to discuss their options (Milwaukee: (414) 271-8650; Madison: (608) 257-0040).

 

Katherine Charlton

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