Grandparents Rights in Wisconsin

Grandparents seeking visitation will need to apply for custody and visitation if it is in the best interests of the child. In most cases, this is only granted when there is convincing evidence that both parents of the child are deemed unfit to care for their children, or if both parents pass away.

Grandparents Rights and Responsibilities

Parents have the right to raise their children in whatever way they deem acceptable as long as they are in a safe, stable environment and their basic needs are being met. However, there are certain situations in which the grandparents have a reasonable expectation for visitation. If a grandparent can substantiate their claims, with clear and convincing evidence, that it is in the child's best interest that they have visitation, they would file a petition to request visitation with the court.

In this petition, it is the grandparents' responsibility to prove that the parents' decision to deny the grandparents access to the child is not in the child's best interest. Once this is filed, a hearing would be scheduled to review the information provided by the grandparent.

Constitutional Rights

Wisconsin Statute 767.43 [1], also known as the Grandparents Visitation Statute, outlines that grandparents, great grandparents, stepparents, or other individuals who have maintained a parent-child relationship with the child may be granted reasonable visitation rights if it is in the best interest of the child and the parents are given notice of the hearing. This has been established as a constitutional right.

The case of Michael v. Lyons in 2019 did make it harder for grandparents to obtain secure visitation rights because it put the burden of proof more heavily on the grandparents in order to maintain the standard that parents are allowed to raise their children as they see fit.


Guardianship is the procedure by which a person is appointed as a “guardian” to an underage or incompetent individual, referred to as a “ward”. The guardian is appointed in order to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of their ward. A grandparent can get guardianship of their grandchild if it is that child's best interest. To get guardianship, you have to go through the necessary court proceedings. 

In order to be granted guardianship, there must be substantial evidence of an extended abandonment of the child by the parents or other circumstances that have caused the parent to be incapable of fulfilling their duties as a parent.

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Grounds for Third Party Visitation

When a grandparent, stepparent, or individual who has a parent-like tie to the child, applies for visitation rights, this is called “third party visitation”. This applies to children outside of a marriage as well. For instance, if a non-married couple had a child who was often looked after by the grandparents, the grandparents could apply for third party custody rights.

As is true in all visitation and custody cases, criminal history and one's past relationship with the children will have a big effect on the outcome of the ruling. The following conditions must be met in order for the court to consider awarding visitation rights:

Unmarried Parents, Divorce, or Legal Separation

The parents of the child must never have been married, divorced, or legally separated in order for the court to consider third party visitation.

Death of a Parent

In situations where one parent is deceased, the grandparent can apply to receive formal visitation with the child if they already have an established relationship with the child.

Unfit Parent Law and Legal Definition

When a party's ability to parent is questioned, the court will look to ensure that the children's safety is maintained. When a parent has a documented history of being neglectful, abusive, or is otherwise unable to care for the child, the Wisconsin court could find that the parent is unfit or unable to care for the child.

Wisconsin Child Custody / Visitation forms

The Wisconsin State Law Library[2] contains any required forms that you will need in order to file for custody or visitation. The forms that you will need and the filing fee may vary depending on the county you are filing in.

Are you ready to move forward? Call (262) 221-8123 to schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys.

Frequently Asked Questions

What rights do grandparents have in the state of Wisconsin?

Depending on the specifics of the situation, grandparents have the right to file for visitation with their grandchildren. In extreme circumstances, they also have the right to file for guardianship of the child. Guardianship would give them custody and placement rights over the child.

Do grandparents have legal rights in Wisconsin?

Grandparents do not automatically have rights to their grandchildren in Wisconsin. The only right they have from the start is the ability to file to get rights to see their grandchild.

Do grandparents have the right of access to grandchildren?

The only time grandparents have the right to time with their grandchildren is when the court decides they have that right. Otherwise, it is up to the parents whether or not the children see their grandparents.

What is grandparent alienation?

Grandparent alienation is when they are not permitted to have a conventional relationship with their grandchildren. This could be due to a variety of reasons such as the parents not having a good relationship with the grandparents.

What is considered an unfit parent in Wisconsin?

An unfit parent in Wisconsin is one who cannot take care of their child. This could be due to anything from drug addiction to abandonment. Deeming someone unfit under the law has serious consequences for the unfit parent.

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