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A Big Win For Grandparents Throughout Wisconsin!

Our Wisconsin Supreme Court today issued a landmark decision supporting grandparents rights in our state. In a near unanimous decision, the Court concluded that section 767.43(1) of the Wisconsin Statutes, allows grandparents, great-grandparents and step-parents to seek visitation rights, without having to establish a parent like relationship.

The case is in re the Marriage of Meister v. Meister, 2014 AP 1283 (2016). The case involved the interpretation of Wis. Stat. sec. 767.43 (1), which permits certain categories of individuals to petition the court for the right to visit children, usually following the parents obtaining a divorce. Under the statute, a “grandparent, great-grandparent, step-parent, or person who has maintained a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship must determine whether the “parent-child relationship” requirement applies only to the “person” category listed in the statute, or whether it also applies to a “grandparent, great-grandparent, and step-parent.”

The controversy arose after the grandmother, Carol Meister, filed a motion with the court to visit her four grandchildren. She filed the request after her son obtained a divorce. The family court commissioner in Jefferson County, granted the request. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court and the grandmother was denied visitation rights. The case was then appealed and heard by our Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The court concluded that Wis. Stat. sec. 767.43(1) does not require a grandparent, great-grandparent, or step-parent who files a petition for visitation rights under this subsection to have to prove that he or she “has maintained a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship with the child.” Rather, the parent-child relationship aspect of the statute applies only to a “person” seeking visitation rights who is not a grandparent, great-grandparent, or step-parent. The court went on to state that the legislature’s decision to allow courts to grant visitation rights to grandparents, great-grandparents and step-parents when visitation is in the best interest of the child does not unconstitutionally infringe on the parent’s constitutional rights because any best interest determination must give special weight to a fit parent’s decisions regarding the child’s best interest. Our Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals.

The court stated the following: “Examining Wis. Stat. sec. 767.43 (1) in its present form, it is clear that the legislature expanded the number of persons who may petition for visitation rights. The current statute allows grandparents, great-grandparents, and step-parents to petition for visitation rights, and it allows other persons to seek visitation as well, so long as they have maintained a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship with the child. Given the legislature’s history of expanding visitation rights and the fact that any court considering a child’s best interests under Wis. Stat. sec. 767.43(1), must give special weight to fit parent’s best interest determinations, we conclude that a grandparent, great-grandparent, or step-parent need not prove a parent- child relationship in order to secure visitation rights under that subsection.”

Tonight, throughout Wisconsin, we salute grandparents, great-grandparents and step-parents in this very important decision of our state Supreme Court.

If you have concerns about Grandparent’s rights in Wisconsin, contact the family law attorneys at Karp & Iancu, S.C.

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