Most people are aware that grandparents have the ability to request some visitation time with grandchildren, in the unfortunate event that the parents are unwilling to provide visitation voluntarily. However, visitation is not limited to grandparents. Wisconsin law allows for any person with a parent-like relationship with a child to request “reasonable visitation.” Relatives other than grandparents, or even family friends, who hold a special relationship with a child should not necessarily be shut out of that child’s life completely on the whim of a parent. Close bonds can develop between a child and:
1. A relative who lived with the parents for some time and played an important role in the child’s life;
2. A relative or friend who cared for the child in their home, with the parent’s approval, or in their absence;
3. The spouse or significant other of a parent with a child from a previous relationship;
4. Partners in same sex relationships.
Such a situation does not often arise after a divorce, since the relatives/friends of one parent can usually arrange to see the child during that parent’s placement time. However, if one parent has died, or is absent, the remaining parent sometimes cuts off all contact between the child and non-parent. In the latter two situations, the breakup of a relationship in which one partner was not the child’s biological parent severs the relationship (in a legal sense) without cooperation from the biological parent to permit access. When strong bonds have developed between a child and a close caregiver, an abrupt termination of that relationship can be traumatic for the child and the adult.
In order to maintain a bond with the child, the non-parent should ask the court to order some periods of visitation. The non-parent must then overcome the Constitutionally-based presumption that the parent should be permitted to raise the child as he/she sees fit. That may include the right to deny contact to non-parents. After overcoming that hurdle, the non-parent still must demonstrate that the visitation is best for the child. There are several procedural and legal intracacies to building a successful case for non-parent visitation. I have encountered these situations several times, and would be happy to consult with you to ensure that you get the best chance to maintain such an important bond. I also encourage you to attend the seminar entitled “Legal Alert: Single Parents and Grandparents are at Risk” on August 24 at our Middleton Office, at which time I will expand on these issues and answer any questions you may have.