Grandparents' Rights in Wyoming

Provisions Made for Grandparents and Caregivers

grandparent visitation rights
Wyoming makes it neither exceptionally difficult nor exceptionally easy to gain visitation rights. Photo © HGall | Getty Images

In the state of Wyoming, one statute addresses grandparent visitation rights and another addresses caregiver visitation rights, which will pertain to some grandparents. Both statutes are brief and put few obstacles in the path of grandparents seeking visitation. Still, when states are classified by their grandparent visitation laws, Wyoming is counted as neither a permissive nor a restrictive state.

Wyoming is one of the states that allows grandparents to sue for visitation even if the grandchild lives in an intact family with both parents. Originally the grandparent visitation law contained language specifying that visitation could be requested if the parent who was the grandparent's child had died or had divorced the other parent. The law at that time also specified that a grandparent could sue for visitation of a grandchild who had lived with the grandparent for a period in excess of 6 months before being returned to the custody of the parent. Those provisions were repealed in 1997. Grandparents can also sue their own child for contact with a grandchild, as was decided In the 1993 case of Goff v. Goff.

Provisions of the Current Law

The first statute simply allows a grandparent to bring an original suit against any person having custody of a grandchild. The second allows a caregiver to petition for visitation if he or she has been the child's primary caregiver for at least six months out of the preceding eighteen months.

Grandparents who have raised a grandchild for a significant time thus have a fairly clear-cut path to visitation. Grandparents seeking visitation should document their relationship with their grandchild closely and follow other recommendations for safeguarding visitation rights. However, other provisions of the law keep the outcome of lawsuits from being a foregone conclusion, no matter which of the two statutes pertains.

 

Both statutes require the court to find that visitation would be in the best interests of the child and would not substantially impair the rights of the parents. Both statutes provide that if a guardian ad litem is appointed, the petitioner is responsible for those fees and expenses. Neither grandparents nor caregivers can sue for visitation rights in the case of a child adopted by persons not related by blood to the child. Visitation rights may be amended or revoked if the custodial parent or guardian demonstrates good cause.

Rights After Adoption

Wyoming law also specifies that adoption cuts off visitation rights: "No action to establish visitation rights may be brought by a grandparent under subsection (a) of this section if the minor grandchild has been adopted and neither adopting parent is a natural parent of the child."

In most states, language such as this is commonly used to differentiate  between adoption by a stepparent, which usually does not cut off visitation rights, and adoption by outside parties, which does cut off such rights.

The difficulties that can arise from such seemingly clear-cut language is demonstrated by the case of Hede v. Gilstrap. A child's paternal grandparents had been granted visitation rights.

The child was subsequently adopted by the maternal grandparents. The paternal grandparents argued that depriving them of visitation would infringe upon both their rights and the rights of the child. They also contended that because visitation was awarded before the adoption, it should survive the adoption. The court found for the maternal grandparents, stating that nothing in the statutes about grandparent visitation and nothing in the statutes about adoption supported the paternal grandparents' arguments. Wyoming law, the court stated that Wyoming adoption serves to "extinguish all legal relationships between an adopted child and his or her biological family."

See Wyoming Statutes 20-7-101 and 20-7-102.