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Intervenor; What is it?

While we typically don’t see too many intervenor cases in family law matters, it certainly can happen. What is intervenor? What is the statutory authority for allowing it? In what type of cases or situations can one intervene in a case?

1. An intervenor is a party who does not have a substantial and direct interest but has clearly ascertainable interests and perspectives essential to a judicial determination and whose standing has been granted by the court for all or a portion of the proceedings. see

2. The Intervenor statute in Wisconsin is sec. 803.09 and reads as follows:

803.09 Intervention. (1) “Except as provided in s. 20.931, upon timely motion anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action when the movant claims an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action and the movant is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or  impede the movant’s ability to protect that interest, unless the movant’s interest is adequately represented by existing parties.

 (2) Except as provided in s. 20.931, upon timely motion anyone may be permitted to intervene in an action when a movant’s claim or defense and the main action have a question of law or fact in common. When a party to an action relies for ground of claim or defense upon any statute or executive order or rule administered  by a federal or state governmental officer or agency or upon any regulation, order, rule, requirement or agreement issued or made pursuant to the statute or executive order, the officer or agency upon timely motion may be permitted to intervene in the action. In exercising its discretion the court shall consider whether the intervention will unduly delay or prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the original parties.

(3)  A person desiring to intervene shall serve a motion to  intervene upon the parties as provided in s. 801.14. The motion shall state the grounds therefor and shall be accompanied by a pleading setting forth the claim or defense for which intervention is sought. The same procedure shall be followed when a statute gives a right to intervene.”

The court’s have discretion whether a motion to intervene should be allowed. In the case of Helgeland v. Wisconsin Muncipalities, 2008 WI 9, 307 Wis. 2d 1, 745, the court stated the following:

“Court have no precise formula for determining whether a potential intervenor meets the requirements of sub. (1). The analysis is holistic, flexible and highly fact specific. Sub. (1) attempts to strike a balance between two conflicting public policies; that the original parties to a lawsuit should be allowed to conduct and conclude their own lawsuit and that persons should be allowed to join a lawsuit in the interest of the speedy and economical resolution of controversies. Despite its nomenclature, intervention “as of right” usually turns on judgment calls and fact assessments that a reviewing court is unlikely to disturb except for clear mistakes.”

3. When might one see a motion to intervene in a family law case? One situation may be where  a significant creditor wants to join in a family law action. Take the situation where grandparents may have loaned the parties going through a divorce a significant amount of money. The parties are arguing between themselves whether it is a loan or a gift. There is legal papers to support the fact that the money given over by the grandparents to the parties was a loan and not intended as a gift. To protect their money, the grandparents could try intervening in the family law action so that when the court decides the issue of whether the money was a gift or a loan or how it should be repaid, the grandparents are protected.

Another obvious answer is when there is a petition filed for third party visitation rights under the so-called “grandparents’ statute,”, sec. 767.43 (1) Stats. Sub. (1) of the statute reads as follows:

 767.43 Visitation rights of certain persons. (1) PETITION, WHO MAY FILE. “Except as provided in subs. (1m) and (2m), upon petition by a grandparent, great-grandparent, stepparent or person who has maintained a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship with the child, the court may grant reasonable visitation rights to that person if the parents have notice of the hearing and if the court determines that visitation is in the best interest of the child.”

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