FrequentlyAsked Questions

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Grandparent Visitation

Sometimes. In limited circumstances the court can order grandparent visitation even if either or both parents object. Several Wisconsin statutes establish grandparent rights under different legal circumstances, including (1) when a parent has died, (2) the parents’ divorce, (3) an adoption of the child, and (4) when there is a paternity action involving the child. In effect, if the child’s parents’ family is not “intact” (e.g. death, divorce, no marriage, etc.), and the court’s jurisdiction is invoked, the court can then consider awarding a grandparent visitation.
In the context of a divorced parent, the grandparent must establish that the parents have received notice of the legal action and that the visitation with the grandparents is in each child’s best interests. This may appear to be a relatively easy task to prove if the grandchildren had a positive relationship with the grandparents; however, parents have a Constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit. This right would include the right to determine who may or may not have visitation with their child. In applying the grandparent visitation statutes, the court must presume that the parent is indeed acting in the child’s best interests in either denying or limiting the visitation with the grandparents. The grandparents have the burden of proof to rebut the presumption that the parent is acting in children’s best interests. For example, if a parent had encouraged a strong and meaningful relationship of her children with the grandparents, but abruptly terminated all contact because the grandparents refused to lend the parent money, this would seem to be a situation in which the parent is not acting in the children’s best interests but using their access or lack of access to punish the grandparents.
No. Wisconsin does not set maximum or minimum amount of time a grandparent may be awarded to visit with a grandchild. Each case is determined on the facts and circumstances of the situation involving that grandchild. Wisconsin employs three legal terms typically associated with children. The first is “legal custody,” which involves the authority to make major decisions involving a child. A grandparent generally cannot obtain this authority without obtaining a guardianship of the grandchild. The second term is “placement periods,” which involves the periods awarded to a parent under a divorce or paternity judgment. The placement period can be anywhere from no placement time, to equal placement, to primary placement. The third term is “visitation periods,” this is the time a non-parent or third-party may receive to visit a child. A grandparent would be deemed to be seeking a visitation period. Although it would seem that visitation would involve less time than a placement order akin, the courts have held that there are no arbitrary maximums or minimums of what may be awarded in a grandparent visitation case. In practice, however, most grandparents receive far less time than a parent would receive under a divorce or paternity proceeding.
No. The visitation statutes do not allow grandparents to seek custody of the children or to have the children reside with them exclusively. Instead, under the circumstances of alleged abuse, the grandparents could inform Child Protective Services (CPS) of their concerns. CPS will conduct an investigation of abuse and determine whether the child should be removed from the parent’s home. If so, then the grandparents could be an option for temporary placement of the child while the court process monitors the situation between the grandchild and his parent(s). The statutory objective in these cases is reunification of the family, meaning that the goal of the court would be to return the grandchild to his parents. However, in rare instances, reunification may not be possible and the court could terminate the parents’ rights and allow the grandparents to adopt the grandson. This is a serious and complex process, involving allegation, investigation, and a lengthy court process known as a “CHIPS action” (i.e. Children In Need of Protective Services). A grandparent or parent involved in this situation would be best served by an attorney who practices both juvenile law and family law.
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