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In many families, grandparents play a significant role in raising children. Additionally, if a child’s parent or parents are largely absent, grandparents may even find themselves serving as the child’s primary caretakers. In tumultuous circumstances, such as a contentious divorce, one or both parents may decide to cut grandparents out of the child’s life. The results can be devastating – both for the grandparents and for the child who loves and depends on them. Such grandparents will likely be wondering whether they have any legal rights to continued visitation.

 In Wisconsin, Courts Recognize Grandparent Visitation Rights Under Some Circumstances

Wisconsin statutes provide several circumstances under which a court may order and enforce grandparent visitation. The requirements that must be met before a court will order grandparent visitation are different depending on whether the child’s parents are in the midst of a divorce, if one or both of the child’s parents are deceased, or if the child’s parents are not married. For example, if the child was born to parents who were not married, the court may grant reasonable visitation to the grandparents of the child if the following requirements are met:

  1. The paternity of the child has been determined, if the grandparent filing the petition is a parent of the child’s father. (If a paternity action is pending, that action must first be completed before visitation rights may be determined.)
  1. The child has not been adopted.
  1. The grandparent has maintained a relationship with the child or has attempted to maintain a relationship with the child but has been prevented from doing so by a parent with legal custody of the child.
  1. The grandparent is not likely to act in a manner that is contrary to decisions that are made by a parent with legal custody of the child and that are related to the child’s physical, emotional, educational, or spiritual welfare.
  1. The visitation is in the best interests of the child.

Wis. Stat. § 767.43(3).

If The Grandchild’s Family Is “Intact,” Wisconsin Case Law Provides An Alternative Route To Visitation

In Wisconsin, courts will strongly protect the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit. Especially if a child’s family is intact – i.e., the parents are married and raising the child together – grandparents are not likely to obtain court-ordered visitation over the parents’ objection. An exception to this general rule was set out in Holtzman v. Knott, 193 Wis.2d 649 (1995). Under Holtzman, a court may grant visitation to a third party – such as a grandparent – if the following requirements are met:

  1. The third party has maintained a parent-like relationship with the child;
  1. A “triggering event” has disrupted the child’s placement schedule; and
  1. Court ordered visitation with the third party would be in the best interests of the child.

Cases such as Holtzman demonstrate that some courts are not opposed to fashioning creative visitation arrangements where children have multiple parental figures.

Grandparents Seeking Visitation Over A Parent’s Objection Should Speak With An Attorney

Every grandparent visitation case is highly fact specific, with different statutes applying to different situations. With each case, courts must balance the best interests of the child against the parent’s right to raise their child without outside interference.

Our family law attorneys can help grandparents petition for visitation to secure consistent and meaningful time with their grandchildren. If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation regarding grandparent visitation rights, consider contacting one of the family law attorneys at Hawks Quindel, S.C. Our Milwaukee family law attorneys may be reached at 414-271-8650. Our Madison family law attorney may be reached at 608-257-0040.

Lynn Lodahl

Associate at Hawks Quindel, S.C.
Attorney Lynn Lodahl joined Hawks Quindel’s Madison, Wisconsin office in 2014. Her practice focuses on family law, employee benefits, and social security disability appeals. She is also qualified to serve as a guardian ad litem in Wisconsin courts.