Constitutional protections of a parent's right to his or her child do not prevent the application of the best interests of the child standard as the central focus of determining where the child shall live. “Best interests" and “safety" are not synonymous. Richard D. v. Rebecca G. 228 Wis. 2d 658
, 599 N.W.2d 90
(Ct. App. 1999), 99-0433
Sub. (4) requires allocation of placement between the parents. Before a court may deny a parent all placement or contact with a child, it must find that the contact would endanger the child's physical, mental, or emotional health. A parent who seeks to deny all contact by the other parent has the burden of proving the danger to the child. Wolfe v. Wolfe, 2000 WI App 93
, 234 Wis. 2d 449
, 610 N.W.2d 222
There is no presumption of equal placement. While sub. (4) (a) 2. requires the court to provide for placement that allows the child to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent, that is not tantamount to a presumption of equal placement. Keller v. Keller, 2002 WI App 161
, 256 Wis. 2d 401
, 647 N.W.2d 426
While natural parents have a natural right to care and custody of their children, they do not have a fundamental right to equal placement periods after divorce. Arnold v. Arnold, 2004 WI App 62
, 270 Wis. 2d 705
, 679 N.W.2d 296
A trial court may consider whether a parent's particular lifestyle choices have an impact on the best interests of a specific child. Findings regarding instability in living conditions must be based upon evidence specific to the individual case, not generalizations. A court's finding that a parent's living situation was unstable based primarily upon the trial court's negative view of her unmarried status was improper. Helling v. Lambert, 2004 WI App 93
, 272 Wis. 2d 796
, 681 N.W.2d 552
The sub. (2) (am) presumption that joint legal custody is in the child's best interest applies only in initial legal custody determinations, not in modification determinations. The presumption that the current custody and physical placement arrangement is in the child's best interest under s. 767.325 (1) (b) [now s. 767.451 (1) (b)] continues to apply in modification cases. Abbas v. Palmersheim, 2004 WI App 126
, 275 Wis. 2d 311
, 685 N.W.2d 546
An agreement approved by the court and incorporated into the judgment that gave impasse-breaking authority to the guardian ad litem and family court counselor on the issue of which school a child was to attend was consistent with the public policy favoring settlement in divorce cases. The particular decision was not reviewable by the court, but the other parent could move to modify the grant of power under s. 767.325 [now s. 767.451]. Lawrence v. Lawrence, 2004 WI App 170
, 276 Wis. 2d 403
, 687 N.W.2d 748
The court acted properly when it ordered child support under the standard percentage guideline, without a reduction under the shared-time payer provision, for a parent with care responsibility for 36 percent of overnight placements. Placement until 7:00 p.m. including an evening meal, is not equivalent to providing overnight placement for purposes of determining the amount of placement with a parent. Rumpff v. Rumpff, 2004 WI App 197
, 276 Wis. 2d 606
, 688 N.W.2d 699
Under sub. (1m) each parent is entitled to a copy of the other's parenting plan. The trial court should not even consider custody and placement until both parties have had the opportunity to review each other's plans. Guelig v. Guelig, 2005 WI App 212
, 287 Wis. 2d 472
, 704 N.W.2d 916
Sub. (1m) does not relieve the court of the obligation to articulate how its decision bears on the child's best interests if one parent, who does not timely file a parenting plan, waives the right to object to the other party's plan. Sub. (5) (am) requires the court to consider the child's best interests in absolute terms. Guelig v. Guelig, 2005 WI App 212
, 287 Wis. 2d 472
, 704 N.W.2d 916
Sub. (4) (a) 2. does not require a court to grant each parent equal placement if the court determines that the placement should be modified. In making modification determinations, the circuit court is to maximize the amount of time a child spends with his or her parents within an overall placement schedule, taking into account the best interests of the child, the presumption of the status quo under s. 767.325 (1) and (2) [now s. 767.451], the general factors listed in this section, and the particular factors listed under sub. (5) (am) when relevant to the child. With respect to the modification of legal custody and physical placement orders, maximizing the amount of time cannot be equated with the notion of equal placement. Landwehr v. Landwehr, 2006 WI 64
, 291 Wis. 2d 49
, 715 N.W.2d 180
In a custody dispute triggered by a petition for guardianship between a birth parent and a non-parent, the threshold inquiry is whether the parent is unfit, unable to care for the child, or there are compelling reasons for awarding custody to the non-parent. Consideration of a minor's nomination of a guardian presupposes that the need for a guardian has been established. If it is determined that the birth parent is fit and able to care for the child and no compelling reasons exist to appoint a non-parent guardian, then the minor's nomination of a guardian becomes moot. Nicholas C. L. v. Julie R. L. 2006 WI App 119
, 293 Wis. 2d 819
, 719 N.W.2d 508
Enforcement of surrogacy agreements promotes stability and permanence in family relationships because it allows the intended parents to plan for the arrival of their child, reinforces the expectations of all parties to the agreement, and reduces contentious litigation. Because the agreement in this case was a valid, enforceable contract, the circuit court's exclusion of the agreement and decision to render a custody and placement order without consideration of the agreement constituted an erroneous exercise of discretion. Rosecky v. Schissel, 2013 WI 66
, 349 Wis. 2d 84
, 833 N.W.2d 634
is still good law, subject to the expanded authority granted over intrastate moves of 150 or more miles. Accordingly, the circuit court in this case had no authority to prospectively order a parent to not move beyond 45 miles from the marital home. By its enactment of s. 767.481, the legislature has made a judgment that moves of less than 150 miles are not subject to the best interests of the children standard. Rather than providing a court authority to prohibit geographical separation, sub. (4) (a) 2. presumes such separation exists and directs the court to consider the separation when establishing a placement schedule. Derleth v. Cordova, 2013 WI App 142
, 352 Wis. 2d 51
, 841 N.W.2d 552
Sub. (2) (d) permits, but does not mandate, an analysis of whether a party has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of domestic abuse. The legislature chose to require the parties and guardian ad litem to ask the court to consider whether there was a pattern or serious incident of domestic abuse. By not doing so at the time of the original divorce, the parties waived the right to seek application of the presumption in sub. (2) (d) based upon the facts that existed at the time they stipulated to joint custody. A party is free to seek application of the presumption in a post-divorce action if new facts support the presumption. Glidewell v. Glidewell, 2015 WI App 64
, 364 Wis. 2d 588
, 869 N.W.2d 796
Custody — to which parent? Podell, Peck, First, 56 MLR 51.
The best interest of the child doctrine in Wisconsin custody cases. 64 MLR 343 (1980).
In the Interest of a Child: A Comparative Look at the Treatment of Children Under Wisconsin and Minnesota Custody Statutes. Walsh. 85 MLR 929 (2002).
Recent Changes in Wisconsin's Law Regarding Child Custody and Placement. Rue. 2001 WLR 1177.
Debating the Standard in Child Custody Placement Decisions. Molvig. Wis. Law. July 1998.
Wisconsin's Custody, Placement, and Paternity Reform Legislation. Walther. Wis. Law. Apr. 2000.
Domestic Abuse: Little Impact on Child Custody and Placement. Meuer, Gibart, & Roach. Wis. Law. Dec. 2018.
Visitation rights of certain persons. 767.43(1)(1)
Petition, who may file.
Except as provided in subs. (1m)
, upon petition by a grandparent, greatgrandparent, 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.
Except as provided in par. (b)
, the court may not grant visitation rights under sub. (1)
to a person who has been convicted under s. 940.01
of the first-degree intentional homicide, or under s. 940.05
of the 2nd-degree intentional homicide, of a parent of the child, and the conviction has not been reversed, set aside or vacated.
does not apply if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation would be in the best interests of the child. The court shall consider the wishes of the child in making the determination.
(2) Wishes of the child.
Whenever possible, in making a determination under sub. (1)
, the court shall consider the wishes of the child.
(2m) When special grandparent provision applicable.
, rather than sub. (1)
, applies to a grandparent requesting visitation rights under this section if sub. (3) (a)
applies to the child.
(3) Special grandparent visitation provision.
The court may grant reasonable visitation rights, with respect to a child, to a grandparent of the child if the child's parents have notice of the hearing and the court determines all of the following:
The child is a nonmarital child whose parents have not subsequently married each other.
Except as provided in sub. (4)
, the paternity of the child has been determined under the laws of this state or another jurisdiction if the grandparent filing the petition is a parent of the child's father.
The grandparent has maintained a relationship with the child or has attempted to maintain a relationship with the child but has been prevented from doing so by a parent who has legal custody of the child.
The grandparent is not likely to act in a manner that is contrary to decisions that are made by a parent who has legal custody of the child and that are related to the child's physical, emotional, educational or spiritual welfare.
The visitation is in the best interest of the child.
(3c) Action in which petition filed; alternatives.
A grandparent requesting visitation under sub. (3)
may file a petition to commence an independent action for visitation under this chapter or may file a petition for visitation in an underlying action affecting the family under this chapter that affects the child.
A pretrial hearing shall be held before the court in an action under sub. (3)
. At the pretrial hearing the parties may present and cross-examine witnesses and present other evidence relevant to the determination of visitation rights. A record or minutes of the proceeding shall be kept.
On the basis of the information produced at the pretrial hearing, the court shall evaluate the probability of granting visitation rights to a grandparent in a trial and shall so advise the parties. On the basis of the evaluation, the court may make an appropriate recommendation for settlement to the parties.
If a party or the guardian ad litem refuses to accept a recommendation under this subsection, the action shall be set for trial.
The informal hearing under this subsection may be terminated and the action set for trial if the court finds it unlikely that all parties will accept a recommendation under this subsection.
(4) Paternity determination.
If the paternity of the child has not yet been determined in an action under sub. (3)
that is commenced by a person other than a parent of the child's mother but the person filing the petition under sub. (3)
has, in conjunction with that petition, filed a petition or motion under s. 767.80 (1) (k)
, the court shall make a determination as to paternity before determining visitation rights under sub. (3)
(5) Interference with visitation rights.
Any person who interferes with visitation rights granted under sub. (1)
may be proceeded against for contempt of court under ch. 785
, except that a court may impose only the remedial sanctions specified in s. 785.04 (1) (a)
against that person.
(6) Modification of order if homicide conviction. 767.43(6)(a)(a)
If a person granted visitation rights with a child under this section is convicted under s. 940.01
of the first-degree intentional homicide, or under s. 940.05
of the 2nd-degree intentional homicide, of a parent of the child, and the conviction has not been reversed, set aside or vacated, the court shall modify the visitation order by denying visitation with the child upon petition, motion or order to show cause by a parent or guardian of the child, or upon the court's own motion, and upon notice to the person granted visitation rights.
does not apply if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation would be in the best interests of the child. The court shall consider the wishes of the child in making that determination.
History: 1971 c. 220
; 1977 c. 105
; 1979 c. 32
, 92 (4)
; Stats. 1979 s. 767.245; 1983 a. 447
; 1987 a. 355
; 1995 a. 68
; 1999 a. 9
; 2005 a. 443
; Stats. 2005 s. 767.43.
Biological grandparents had no right to visitation following termination of their son's parental rights and adoption by the child's stepfather. Soergel v. Soergel, 154 Wis. 2d 564
, 453 N.W.2d 624
The visitation petition of a custodial parent's widow did not meet the criteria of sub. (1) when, prior to the custodial parent's death, the non-custodial parent had filed a motion to revise custody. Section 880.155 [now s. 54.56] governs visitation in the event of a parent's death. Cox v. Williams, 177 Wis. 2d 433
, 502 N.W.2d 128
A paternity case in which the court has retained postjudgment authority to enforce the judgment constitutes an underlying action under which a petition for grandparent visitation may be brought. Paternity of Nastassja L.H.-J. 181 Wis. 2d 666
, 512 N.W.2d 189
(Ct. App. 1993).
An existing underlying action affecting the family does not alone provide standing to petition under this section. The underlying action must threaten the integrity of a family unit. An action under this section does not apply to intact families. Because the father figure in a household was not the biological or adoptive father of one of the children did not mean the family was not intact. Marquardt v. Hegemann-Glascock, 190 Wis. 2d 447
, 526 N.W.2d 834
(Ct. App. 1994).
While this section does not apply outside the dissolution of a marriage, it does not preempt the consideration of visitation in circumstances not subject to the statute. A circuit court may consider visitation by a non-parent outside a marriage dissolution situation in the best interests of the child if the non-parent petitioner demonstrates a parent-like relationship with the child and shows a significant triggering event such as substantial interference with that relationship. Custody of H.S.H.-K. 193 Wis. 2d 649
, 533 N.W.2d 419
Public policy does not prohibit a court, relying on its equitable powers, to grant visitation outside this section on the basis of a co-parenting agreement between a biological parent and another when visitation is in the child's best interest. Custody of H.S.H.-K. 193 Wis. 2d 649
, 533 N.W.2d 419
When applying sub. (3), circuit courts must apply the presumption that a fit parent's decision regarding grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the child, but the court must still make its own assessment of the best interest of the child. Paternity of Roger D.H. 2002 WI App 35
, 250 Wis. 2d 747
, 641 N.W.2d 440
Under Troxel v. Granville
, 530 U.S. 57
, the due process clause prevents a court from starting with a clean slate when assessing whether grandparent visitation is in the best interests of the child. Within the best interests framework, the court must afford a parent's decision special weight by applying a rebuttable presumption that the fit parent's decision regarding grandparent visitation is in the best interest of the child. It is up to the party advocating for nonparental visitation to rebut the presumption by presenting evidence that the offer is not in the child's best interests. Martin L. v. Julie R. L. 2007 WI App 37
, 299 Wis. 2d 768
, 731 N.W.2d 288
When an existing informal arrangement was sufficient to maintain the established relationship between grandparents and children, state interference in the form of court-ordered placement with the grandparents was unwarranted. The question is not whether the additional time sought by the grandparents with their grandchildren might be good for all concerned. The questions are whether, under the facts of the case, the state should intervene to dictate to the parent with primary placement, that added visitation time is warranted, and, if so, which parent should forfeit a portion of his or her placement time to accommodate the grandparent visitation. Rogers v. Rogers, 2007 WI App 50
, 300 Wis. 2d 532
, 731 N.W.2d 532
. See also Lubinski v. Lubinski, 2008 WI App 151
, 314 Wis. 2d 395
, 761 N.W.2d 676
The award of overnights and a week during the summer in a grandparent visitation order under s. 54.56 was not contrary to law for being akin to a physical placement award found in divorce cases. There is no difference between the quantity of “physical placement" as that term is used in s. 767.001 (5) and the quantity of “visitation" as that word is used in s. 54.56. The proper amount of that time is a decision made by the family court in the best interests of the children. The quantity of time ordered does not depend on whether it is a visitation order or a physical placement order. Rick v. Opichka, 2010 WI App 23
, 323 Wis. 2d 510
, 780 N.W.2d 159
When children visit their grandparents and stay with them as a guest, the grandparents have the responsibility to make routine daily decisions regarding the child's care but may not make any decisions inconsistent with the major decisions made by a person having legal custody. The same is true of a parent who does not have joint legal custody, but does have a right to physical placement. In both instances, the same rules apply: routine daily decisions may be made, but nothing greater. Rick v. Opichka, 2010 WI App 23
, 323 Wis. 2d 510
, 780 N.W.2d 159
Under Holtzman v. Knott
, 193 Wis. 2d 649
(1995), a circuit court may exercise its equitable powers to hear and grant visitation to a non-parent in circumstances when the ch. 767 non-parent visitation provisions do not apply. To apply these equitable powers a circuit court must determine that the petitioner has a “parent-like relationship" with the child and that a “significant triggering event" exists justifying state intervention in the child's relationship with a biological or adoptive parent. The triggering event required by Holtzman
does not apply to cases brought under the special grandparent provision of sub. (3). Wohlers v. Broughton, 2011 WI App 122
, 337 Wis. 2d 107
, 805 N.W.2d 118
Subsection (1) does not require a grandparent, great-grandparent, or stepparent who files a motion for visitation rights under sub. (1) to prove that he or she has maintained a relationship similar to a parent-child relationship with the child. Rather, the parent-child relationship element applies only to a person seeking visitation rights who is not a grandparent, great-grandparent, or stepparent. S. A. M. v. Meister, 2016 WI 22
, 367 Wis. 2d 447
, 876 N.W.2d 746
Grandparent Visitation Rights. Rothstein. Wis. Law. Nov. 1992.
The Effect of C.G.F. and Section 48.925 on Grandparental Visitation Petitions. Hughes. Wis. Law. Nov. 1992.
Third-party Visitation in Wisconsin. Herman & Cooper. Wis. Law. March 2001.
Prohibiting visitation or physical placement if a parent kills other parent. 767.44(1)(1)
Notwithstanding ss. 767.225 (1) (am)
, 767.41 (1)
, and (5)
, 767.805 (4) (a)
, and 767.89 (3)
and except as provided in sub. (2)
, in an action under this chapter that affects a minor child, a court may not grant to the child's parent visitation or physical placement rights with the child if the parent has been convicted under s. 940.01
of the first-degree intentional homicide, or under s. 940.05
of the 2nd-degree intentional homicide, of the child's other parent, and the conviction has not been reversed, set aside, or vacated.
(2) When not applicable.
does not apply if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation or periods of physical placement would be in the best interests of the child. The court shall consider the wishes of the child in making the determination.
History: 1999 a. 9
; 2001 a. 61
; 2005 a. 443
; Stats. 2005 s. 767.44.
Revision of legal custody and physical placement orders.
Except for matters under s. 767.461
, the following provisions are applicable to modifications of legal custody and physical placement orders:
Within 2 years after final judgment.
Except as provided under sub. (2)
, a court may not modify any of the following orders before 2 years after the final judgment determining legal custody or physical placement is entered under s. 767.41
, unless a party seeking the modification, upon petition, motion, or order to show cause, shows by substantial evidence that the modification is necessary because the current custodial conditions are physically or emotionally harmful to the best interest of the child:
An order of physical placement if the modification would substantially alter the time a parent may spend with his or her child.
Except as provided under par. (a)
and sub. (2)
, upon petition, motion or order to show cause by a party, a court may modify an order of legal custody or an order of physical placement where the modification would substantially alter the time a parent may spend with his or her child if the court finds all of the following:
There has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the last order affecting legal custody or the last order substantially affecting physical placement.
Continuing the current allocation of decision making under a legal custody order is in the best interest of the child.
Continuing the child's physical placement with the parent with whom the child resides for the greater period of time is in the best interest of the child.
A change in the economic circumstances or marital status of either party is not sufficient to meet the standards for modification under subd. 1.
(2) Modification of substantially equal physical placement orders.
Notwithstanding sub. (1)
If the parties have substantially equal periods of physical placement pursuant to a court order and circumstances make it impractical for the parties to continue to have substantially equal physical placement, a court, upon petition, motion, or order to show cause by a party, may modify the order if it is in the best interest of the child.
In any case in which par. (a)
does not apply and in which the parties have substantially equal periods of physical placement pursuant to a court order, a court, upon petition, motion, or order to show cause of a party, may modify the order based on the appropriate standard under sub. (1)
. However, under sub. (1) (b) 2.
, there is a rebuttable presumption that having substantially equal periods of physical placement is in the best interest of the child.
(2m) Modification of periods of physical placement for failure to exercise physical placement.
Notwithstanding subs. (1)
, upon petition, motion or order to show cause by a party, a court may modify an order of physical placement at any time with respect to periods of physical placement if it finds that a parent has repeatedly and unreasonably failed to exercise periods of physical placement awarded under an order of physical placement that allocates specific times for the exercise of periods of physical placement.
(3) Modification of other physical placement orders.
Except as provided under subs. (1)
, upon petition, motion or order to show cause by a party, a court may modify an order of physical placement which does not substantially alter the amount of time a parent may spend with his or her child if the court finds that the modification is in the best interest of the child.
(3m) Reinstatement of former physical placement allocation and schedule.
If a party is a service member, as defined in s. 767.41 (2) (e) 1.
, and the court modifies an order of physical placement on the basis that the service member has been or will be called to active duty in the U.S. armed forces, notwithstanding sub. (1)
the court shall require in the order that the allocation of periods of physical placement and, if applicable, the physical placement schedule that were in effect before the modification are reinstated immediately upon the service member's discharge or release from active duty.
(4) Denial of physical placement.
Upon petition, motion or order to show cause by a party or on its own motion, a court may deny a parent's physical placement rights at any time if it finds that the physical placement rights would endanger the child's physical, mental or emotional health.
(4m) Denial of physical placement for killing other parent.