The Status of Grandparents Rights in Wisconsin


Author: Attorney Andrea Von Hoff


Since 1971, Wisconsin law has allowed grandparents to have “reasonable visitation rights” of their grandchildren in limited circumstances.  One way to obtain grandchild visitation is for the grandparent to establish that he or she has maintained a relationship with their grandchild similar to a parent-child relationship.

The alternative does not require the existence of a parent-like relationship, but a grandparent must prove all of the following:

  • The parents of the child are not and have never been married.
  • The child has not been adopted.
  • The grandparent has attempted to maintain a relationship with the child, but has been prevented from doing so.
  • The grandparent will not act in a manner contrary to the decisions made by the parent.

In all cases, the best interest of the child is to be considered, which is why a Guardian ad Litem is almost always appointed.

In 2019, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin issued a decision that curtailed these rights.  In Michels v. Lyons, 2019 WI 57, the Court held that to be successful in a petition for grandparent visitation, the grandparent must show by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s decision regarding grandparent visitation is not in the child’s best interest.  In other words, the Supreme Court reinforced a parent’s right to make the decision about who their child has contact with, and under what circumstances.  Although Michels v. Lyons does not go as far as declaring the grandparent visitation statute unconstitutional, it does make it more difficult for any grandparent to obtain a court-ordered visitation schedule with a grandchild.