How is Child Custody Determined in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, child custody and placement is determined either by the agreement of the parents or a court order. Wisconsin's child custody laws allow parents or legal guardians the option of joint custody, and also recognize grandparent visitation rights.

How Does the Court Decide Custody?

If the parents are unable to come to an agreement, placement will be determined by the court following a trial or an evidentiary hearing. Before issuing the custody order, WI judges must consider the following factors before determining the legal and/or physical custody of a child:

  1. The wishes of the child, which may be communicated by the child or through the child's guardian ad litem or other appropriate professional.
  2. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interest.
  3. The amount and quality of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past, any necessary changes to the parents' custodial roles and any reasonable life-style changes that a parent proposes to make to be able to spend time with the child in the future.
  4. The child's adjustment to the home, school, religion and community.
  5. The age of the child and the child's developmental and educational needs at different ages.
  6. Whether the mental or physical health of a party, minor child, or other person living in a proposed custodial household negatively affects the child's intellectual, physical, or emotional well-being.
  7. The need for regularly occurring and meaningful periods of physical placement to provide predictability and stability for the child.
  8. The availability of public or private child care services.
  9. The cooperation and communication between the parties and whether either party unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other party.
  10. Whether each party can support the other party's relationship with the child, including encouraging and facilitating frequent and continuing contact with the child, or whether one party is likely to unreasonably interfere with the child's continuing relationship with the other party.
  11. Whether there is evidence that a party engaged in abuse of the child.
  12. Whether any of the following has a criminal record and whether there is evidence that any of the following has engaged in abuse of the child or any other child or neglected the child or any other child:
    • A person with whom a parent of the child has a dating relationship.
    • A person who resides, has resided, or will reside regularly or intermittently in a proposed custodial household.
  13.  Whether there is evidence of inter-spousal battery or domestic abuse.
  14. Whether either party has or had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse.
  15. The reports of appropriate professionals if admitted into evidence.
  16. Such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant.

The courts decision will prioritize a child's safety and well-being above all other factors. Patterns of abuse, either inter-spousal or domestic, or a serious incident of abuse are the paramount concern in in determining legal custody and periods of physical placement.

Additionally, the court cannot consider active or reserve military service as a factor in determining the legal custody of a child.

Source: Wisconsin Statutes

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