Final Blow to Grandparent Visitation

Today’s ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court in Spiker v. Spiker puts a definitive end to any lingering questions about grandparent visitation in Iowa. The court previously found the Iowa grandparent visitation statute unconstitutional on its face. In re Marriage of Howard, 661 N.W.2d 183, 187 (Iowa 2003). The Spiker decision holds that any pre-existing court orders will no longer be considered enforceable and will be vacated if challenged.

On a technical note, the decision contains an excellent discussion of several abstract legal principles, including law of the case, res judicata, issue preclusion, and claim preclusion, as well as a discussion of why so-called “final” judgments in custody and child support cases are not truly ever “final” judgments.

Wisconsin Codifies “Internet Visitation”

The Wisconsin legislature passed this “internet visitation” bill into law yesterday. Allow commonly referred to as “internet visitation,” the bill essentially codifies many standard decretal provisions that allow for telephone contact between the custodial and non-custodial parent.

The following summary is from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau: This bill provides that, if the court grants periods of physical placement to both

parents, the court may grant to a parent a reasonable amount of electronic

communication at reasonable hours during the other parent’s periods of physical

placement with the child. Electronic communication is defined as time during which

a parent and his or her child communicate by using various types of communication

tools, such as the telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, and video

conferencing or other wired or wireless technologies via the Internet. The basis for

granting electronic communication is whether it is in the child’s best interest and

whether equipment for providing electronic communication is reasonably available

to both parents. Electronic communication may be used only to supplement, and not

as a substitute or replacement for, the physical placement that a parent has with the


The bill provides that a parenting plan that a party files with the court before

a pretrial conference when legal custody or physical placement is contested must

include any electronic communication a parent is requesting and must indicate

whether equipment for providing electronic communication is reasonably available

to both parents. The bill also provides that, if a parent is proposing to move with the child and the other parent objects to the move, the court may not use the availability of electronic communication as a factor in support of a modification of physical placement or a refusal to prohibit the parent from moving with the child.”

Same-Sex Partner Granted Visitation (Minnesota)

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision today granting visitation to a same-sex partner who had not adopted her former partner’s children. Marilyn Johnson and Nancy SooHoo, a Minneapolis couple, broke up after 22 years together. During their long relationship, Johnson adopted two children from China. SooHoo did not formally adopt the children. After the breakup, SooHoo petitioned for full custody and child support. The trial court refused to award custody, but gave the non-adopting former partner the right to visit the children two afternoons a week and alternating weekends and holidays, including Mother’s Day. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the visitation order, holding that an ex-partner has the right to see the children if the children were bonded with the ex-mate.

Unlike Iowa, Minnesota has a so-called “third-party visitation statute” which permits, under certain conditions, a third-person not legally or biologically related to a child to have visitation. The constitutionality of that statute was at the center of the Minnesota case.