A child’s relationship with their grandparent can be one of the most cherished connections in their life. Ideally, grandparents will be a vital part of their grandchildren’s lives while serving as a support to their parents. Unfortunately, changes in the family can sometimes mean that grandparents will no longer be able to experience visits with their grandchild as before. When a family goes through divorce, separation, or death, grandparents may find themselves being denied access to their grandchildren. However, Wisconsin grandparents do have legal remedies through Wisconsin family law which may help them see their grandchildren.
Wisconsin Law on Grandparent Visitation
Wisconsin, like many other states, is protective of parents’ rights to deny others access to their children. However, Wisconsin law permits grandparents, great-grandparents, and certain other individuals to ask the family court to allow them to have visitation with a child. Grandparents may be awarded “reasonable visitation rights” with their grandchild provided the parents have notice of a hearing on the matter and the grandparents demonstrate that:
- The child’s parents are not married, are divorced or separated, or one parent had died.
- If the grandparent filing the petition is the paternal grandparent, paternity has been determined, meaning that the father of the child has been legally established.
- The child has not been adopted
- 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 at least one of the parents.
- The grandparent is not likely to act in a manner that is contrary to decisions that are made by a parent, related to the child’s physical, emotional, educational or spiritual welfare.
- The visitation is in the best interest of the child.
Typically, the court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to the case in order to act in the best interest of the child. The Guardian ad Litem will talk with the grandparents, the parents, and if of a suitable age, the child, to gather information and form an option about whether visitation is in the child’s best interest. If the grandparent petitioning for visitation has met the requisite criteria and the Guardian ad Litem recommends visits, the court may grant them visitation despite the parents’ opposition.
The court has the discretion to determine what constitutes “reasonable visitation,” but when grandparents and children have a close relationship which has been disrupted due to divorce, separation or death, it is probable that the court will order that consistent contact take place.
The disruption of the grandchild-grandparent relationship can be devastating to both parties. When their connection is interrupted during a divorce, it can undermine the child’s sense of stability and support during a confusing and frightening time. However, there can be situations which warrant keeping grandparents away from grandchildren to safeguard their well-being.
Deciding how to manage family relationships during a divorce can be challenging. We have experience and understand the issues and laws surrounding grandparent access and can help you determine your next steps. Please contact us online or by phone if we may be of assistance.