Secure Child Custody in Wisconsin
The first step in getting child custody in Wisconsin is understanding what type of action to file
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Modify Custody, Placement & Visitation Orders
How Courts Determine Custody & Placement
In Wisconsin, custody and placement is typically determined by a parenting plan that the parents work on together to determine the best interests of the child. When parents can't come to an agreement, Wisconsin courts look at a number of factors in order to determine child custody and placement for the parents.
In most cases, unless there's clearly a present danger to the child, the courts aim to maximize time for the child with both parents. This means the court will try to give both parents as much time as possible, based on the work schedule of the parents, school/daycare of the child, and location of the child's significant influencers. The court typically doesn't assume one parent is better for the child than the other parent, nor does the court want to inject itself between feuding parents, but rather help facilitate a healthy co-parenting environment for the child.
Some other factors courts consider are as follows:
- The wishes of the child if the child is 13+ and mature enough to make an informed decision
- The mental and physical health of both parents involved
- The willingness of both parents to communicate and cooperate as co-parents and both parent's willingness to help facilitate a meaningful relationship with the other parent.
- Any past domestic violence allegations by either parent against the other parent or child
- Who has played the role as primary caretaker for the child thus far in the child's life
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Do You Know Your Legal Parental Rights?
1. Legal Custody Defined
Culture & Nationality
Children need a parent who can make major decisions for them. The parent awarded legal custody is given the right to make these decisions. While “major decisions” may seem like a blanket term that could cover a wide range of topics, legally speaking there are a few items in particular that fall under this phrase.
Major decisions include: where the child attends school, the child's religious rearing, nonemergency health care options, the child's right to obtain a driver's license, and consent for getting married as a minor. For a complete list, you can see the Wisconsin state statues here.
One thing that is important to note about legal custody is it has nothing to do with where the child lives. In many situations, the legal custody lies with the parent in which the child lives with but this is not always the case.
In general, Wisconsin courts start from the assumption that both parents should have legal custody. This means if one parent wants sole legal custody, they will need to prepare a convincing case proving the other parent is not fit to make decisions in the best interests of the child.
2. Physical Custody Explained
Physical custody, also known as placement, is the legal term to describe where a child spends time. During this placement time, a parent has the legal right to make routine or everyday decisions in the child's life. Major decisions still must go through the parent who has legal custody of the child. In many cases, courts determine that joint legal custody is best for the child. In those cases, any major decisions must be agreed upon by both parents.
The length of physical placement is circumstantial to each individual case. Time may be divided evenly between both parents or it could be determined that one parent will receive substantially more time with the child. The determining factors depend on the time constraints of each parent related to commitments each parent has outside the home.
3. Visitation Rights Explained
There are multiple forms of child visitation. Many times visitation orders are in place for the noncustodial parent (the parent with whom the child does not reside full time). Before visitation can begin, a visitation schedule needs to be created with approval from the court.
Visitation schedules are commonly set up on weekends and holidays, but other exceptions can be made depending on the schedule of the custodial parent and how cordial both parents are with each other.
Supervised Visitation Rights
Supervised visitation rights are set up when it is determined by the court there is a potential risk for the child's safety when the child is in the care of the noncustodial parent. In these cases, a court-ordered supervisor or the custodial parent may be required to be present during visitation.
Grandparent & Third Party Visitation
An often overlooked instance of visitation rights is that of the grandparents or another third party who have a strong relationship with the child. In these cases, the grandparents or third party would need to make a case with the state court and get the court to determine their involvement in the child's life is in the best interests of the child.
In the state of Wisconsin, the courts will examine the specific child/grandparent relationship. If there is a strong history, the chances of gaining visitation rights are greater. The chance of gaining visitation rights increase in instances where one of the child's parents has passed away because it gives the child the love and support of additional family.
Things You Should Know Before You Proceed
Court Ordered Mediation
The state of Wisconsin requires parents unable to reach a child custody agreement on their own to seek court ordered mediation before their child custody case is handled in front of a judge.
A government employee or a private agency that has been contracted through the government usually leads the mediation process. Often times mediation can prove to be successful and parents can reach an agreement for their custody battle.
Why is Mediation Beneficial?
Mediation will save parents time and money by agreeing to terms before going to court. When mediation is successful, a written agreement is put together and submitted to the attorneys of both parents for approval before being sent to the court.
If mediation proves to be unsuccessful, the parents will proceed with their custody battle in front of a family law court.
Children's Rights & Opinion
It's important to remember that while child custody cases may seem like it is a legal battle between two parents, the child's wellbeing is what is at stake. Every child, regardless of parental status, is entitled to basic human rights.
Those rights include food, shelter, ability to earn an education, and health care. On top of that, every child has the right to have a relationship, or at minimum an association, with both parents. Unless it goes against the best interests of the child, one parent can't take away the right from a child to see the other parent.
Tender Years Doctrine
The Tender Years Doctrine is a mostly outdated legal principle that stated a child's mother should always have custody of the child. But as years have passed, the court systems have increasingly shifted away from this principle and instead focus on the best interest of the child.
Unsurprisingly in most cases, the best interest of the child is a life where both parents are involved. As such, laws are slowly being developed to enforce shared parenting with regards to child custody cases.
Factors the Court Will Consider
Since Wisconsin is a state using the “best interests of the child” standard to determine custody, it leaves custody to judges' belief systems. In today's world judges generally lean toward the belief that there is more benefit to the child when both parents are involved on an ongoing consistent basis. The following are the main factors judges consider when overseeing child custody cases.
For the most part, the “tender years” doctrine is all but extinct in Wisconsin, but since the decision is up to the judge, there is still some who believe younger children should grow up with their mother. This is especially true if the mother is the primary caregiver and almost always true when a nursing baby is involved.
Parent's Living Situation
This is typically the most important consideration. Many times the parent who stays in the family house will keep the children. This allows the children stability during an unstable time. For this reason, if you are fighting to get primary custody it is imperative you do NOT move out of the family home if the situation allows.
One Parent's Support of the Other Parent's Involvement with the Children
Since judges typically hold the belief it is in the best interests of the child when both parents are involved in the children's lives, your record of cooperation with the other parent will be considered. This includes your proposed custody and visitation plan and whether you bad-mouth your spouse.
The more cooperative parent typically has greater success in custody disputes. It shows you can think objectively about your children's needs.
Relationship with the Children
The judge will review the historical parental relationship for each child with each parent. Judges review this historical relationship because parents request primary custody to get a win over the other parent or avoid paying child support.
Can a child choose which parent to live with?
Children are not allowed to decide which parent they want to live with after a divorce in Wisconsin. The judge in charge of the divorce or custody hearings must give consideration to the child's wishes at any age but it isn't until age 14 that their wishes are given more weight in the decision.
A child's preference does not always dictate the primary placement of the children, especially when there are multiple children involved. The court prefers to not separate the children into different homes as this creates more instability in the children's lives.
Consistency and Stability
Lastly, but certainly not least, important is maintaining consistency and stability in the children's lives. This is by far one of the most important overall factors, which rears into every facet of child custody decisions.
Many courts believe what is in the best interest of the child is maintaining consistency and stability. Be sure you consider how making decisions for yourself might impact how the court views that decision under the scope of consistency and stability.
Types of Child Custody in Wisconsin
Other Child Custody Options
Sometimes referred to as divided custody, alternating custody occurs when the child lives with one parent for a semester or several months of a year and then spends time living with the other parent for another extended period of time. The length of stay with each parent is not necessarily proportionate or relative to how long the child previously spent with the other parent.
During these stays, the parent with whom the child is currently living with is the provider for that child and oversees all responsibility of the child.
Shared custody is a pretty common custody model. It occurs when the child is with one parent for a set amount of time and then with the other parent for a similar amount of time.
Unlike alternating custody, both parents share the responsibilities of the child. So even if the child is not presently spending time with you, your rights as a parent are never minimized or taken away from you.
Bird's Nest Custody
Bird's nest custody removes the burden of going from one parent's home to the other. In this custody setting, the parent's share a residence where the child will always reside. The parents then alternate who stays at that residence and when.
This custody option provides stability for the child and allows them to have the feeling of always having a home regardless of which parent is staying there with them at the time.
Pick an Action to Begin Securing Child Custody in Wisconsin
Secure Custody & Placement during a Divorce
Enforce Custody, Placement & Visitation Orders
Modify Custody, Placement & Visitation Orders
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