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. 

References: Best Interest of a Child, Bohms v. Bohms (1987), Miller v. Miller (1987)

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