What Is Physical Placement?

Physical placement is the legal term that refers to the times in which a court has ruled a child spend with either parent. During physical placement, the parent is directly responsible for the child's safety, well-being, and care. In a typical child custody case, the non-custodial parent is given physical placement every other weekend, and alternating holidays.

What does Physical Placement Mean?

Physical placement is the actual time a child is spent in a parent’s care. Not to be confused with legal custody, which authorizes decision-making on major issues. Typically the non-custodial parent is given physical placement every other weekend, and alternating holidays.

When the child is in physical placement with one parent, that parent has the right to have the child physically live with him/her for set “periods of placement.” When the child is with that parent, the parent is responsible for making daily decisions concerning the child, such as:

  • bed-time
  • extracurricular activities
  • discipline
  • social activities
  • study hours, etc…

When deciding on a schedule for physical placement a court cannot favor one parent over the other without a valid reason. The court must order routine periods of physical placement that are both meaningful and maximizes the amount of time spent with each parent. If the couple was married and separate/divorce without establishing legal custody or placement, both parents have equal rights to custody and placement.

A court may not deny physical placement for a child with a parent based on that parent’s
failure to provide financial support.

The child is entitled to time with both parents unless physical placement would endanger the child:

  • physical
  • mental
  • or emotional health

Placement Order

The placement order addresses where and with whom the child actually spends time. It’s basically a schedule of the time that a child will spend with each parent. Ideally, the placement is specific and easy to adhere to. If the placement order is too vague can be hard to enforce. Additionally, if the order is too vague a lot of confusion can happen between parents who do not communicate well with one another. Specificity is optimal when it comes to placement orders. A consistent schedule is best for the child/children.

Physical Placement for the Best Interests of the Child

To do what is best for the child, the court must take a number of things into consideration.

The following factors, among others, are examined to settle on a placement schedule that is in the best interest of the child/children:

  • availability of each parent to provide care for the children
  • the wishes of each parent
  • family and other significant relationships
  • past parenting time and proposed changes
  • the wants and needs of each child
  • availability of child care
  • cooperation between parents
  • and support or interference of each parent with the other’s relationship with the children

These things are taken into consideration because stability and predictability are important for the development of a healthy child.

Physical Placement for Unmarried Parents

In a situation where the child/children are born to unmarried parents, if the parents split up and the parents and do not establish custody arrangements, the mother becomes the legal custodian.

Do the Courts Always Decide the Physical Custody of a Child?

There are a few approaches to settling placement dispute. However, in Bohms v. Bohms 140 Wis.2d 529, 410 N.W.2d 658 (Ct. App. 1987), the court decided parents with joint custody need to solve physical custody themselves.

If parties desire to continue joint custody because they wish to share in making such major decision as are given to the legal custodian, they must resolve between themselves their disputes as to the physical placement of the child. The court has no authority to change just physical custody.

After Miller v. Miller, 136 Wis.2d 441, 401 N.W.2d 846 (Ct. App. 1987), physical placement is now decided among those with joint custody. When a trial court awards joint custody, the court defers in matters relating to important decision-making, including physical placement, as physical placement in a judgment is not essential to the validity of the judgment. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How is child custody determined?

Child custody is determined by looking at what is in the child’s best interest. In many cases, it is in the child’s best interest for both parties to have a say in making major decisions for the child. In other situations, only one parent should make major decisions in the child’s life.

What does placement of a child mean?

Placement is where the child is day-to-day. One example of a placement schedule is 7-on-7-off where the child weekly switches off with each parent.
During placement, the parent who has the child is responsible for taking care of them and helping them with everyday tasks. They feed them, take them to school, and take care of them in any other way necessary. The placement schedule will be outlined in the parenting plan.

At what age can children decide where they stay?

In most states, there isn’t a set age where the child gets to decide. Rather, the child’s preference is always taken into consideration. And, as the child gets older, the child’s preference will have more weight.

What is a mother state?

A mother state is where the courts give preference to mothers in all cases involving children. A mother state will give the mother more time with the child even if it isn’t in the child’s best interest. This is not healthy for the child because sometimes mothers can harm their children.

Is custody the same as placement?

No, custody and placement are different things. Custody describes who gets to make major decisions in the child’s life. Placement is then where the child is day-to-day and who takes care of them in those times.

Who has the right to child custody?

Both parents have a right to child custody. However, that right can be taken from a parent if they negatively impact the child. In truth, both parents only have a right to ask for child custody.

What does the law say about child custody?

Child custody laws are a part of family law. Child custody laws describe who should get child custody, how to change it, and how it should look. These laws impact any cases involving children including paternity and divorce cases.

Can a father be given custody of his child?

Yes, a father can be given custody of his child. In fact, a father can be given sole custody if it is in the child’s best interest. The court aims to protect the child and provide them with an environment where they can grow and be healthy. So, if the best way to give that to the child is to give the father custody, that will happen.