Grandparent Visitation Case

By Attorney Gregg Herman
July 9, 2015

One of the most difficult and emotional issues in this field is grandparent visitation.  Often, grandparents serve as surrogate parents and are very close to their grandchildren.  Often, this connection is a significant benefit to a child – as someone once told me, “No child has ever suffered by having too many people love him or her.”

Yet a divorce – or worse, death of a child – may deprive the grandparents of this connection and vice versa.  OTOH, do we really want courts allowed to order parents to allow third parties to see their children?  These third parties do not have to be limited to grandparents and can included adult siblings, aunts, uncles and step-relatives.  The results can be chaotic.

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court accepted review for the first time in a grandparent visitation case.  The case, Meister v. Meister,  2014AP1283 (February 5, 2015), involves an action by the children’s paternal grandmother to establish grandparent visitation rights per § 767.43(1), Stats.  While the circuit court found the grandmother’s relationship with the children was “admirable and beneficial,” it concluded it was not similar to a parent-child relationship because it was of too-short duration and frequency and because the children had not resided with the grandmother for an extended period of time.  The Court of Appeals affirmed.

There are two remarkable aspects to the case.  First, the children, not a parent, appealed the trial court ruling through their GAL.  While the GAL is allowed to do so, it is exceedingly rare.  It is also rare that a trial court (and appellate court) do not follow the recommendation of the GAL.

Second, there is one reported case where grandparent visitation was allowed:  Rick v. Opichka, 2010 WI App 23, 323 Wis. 2d 510, 780 N.W.2d 159.  Yet this case was not even cited, much less distinguished, by the appellate court.

This will be the first SC case in family law since McReath, about four years ago.  It should make for interesting reading.

Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman, LLC in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.