Wisconsin Child Custody Laws

Whether child custody is a part of a paternity case or a divorce case, it all revolves around the best interest of the child. Custody covers who makes major decisions,placement details the daily placement schedule, and support determines who pays for what. Child custody cases fall under family law which is Chapter 767 of Wisconsin’s laws.
Wisconsin Child Custody Laws

Who’s Getting Custody

In Wisconsin, the assumption is that both parents will have custody and placement of the child. The only way that custody and placement is not split 50/50 is if you can prove that doing so would not be in the best interest of the child.

Custody in a Divorce

Custody is part of any divorce case that involves children. At the beginning of the case, there are specific forms that need to be filed in a divorce when there are kids. The custody and placement issues will be decided alongside the other issues like property division and alimony.

Custody after Paternity

A custody case can also come after a paternity case. Or, if paternity was established at the time of birth, then a custody case can start when it is needed. If paternity is not established, the mother has sole custody of the child.

Custody Adjustments

Once there is a custody order, that order may need to be changed or enforced. If an order is more than two years old or a major change has occurred, you can file to modify the orders. Or, if a party doesn’t follow the order or breaks a rule the court agreed to put in place, you can file to enforce the current order.

Wisconsin Child Custody And Placement Laws

The Custody Process

A custody case begins either once a paternity case is settled or once a divorce is filed. For more in-depth information on the process, visit our page outlining what it looks like to work with us from start to finish.

Types of Divorce
For an uncontested divorce, you and the other party agree on all the divorce issues and just need help with the legal process.

In a mediated divorce, the two parties meet with a third-party mediation attorney who helps them go through the divorce process together.

A contested divorce is where the two parties go through the process separately because they do not agree on one or more divorce issue.

Step 1


When you file your case, be sure to use the correct paperwork. If it is part of a divorce, there are different forms required when you have children.

Step 2

Temporary Orders

Temporary orders outline how things like child custody, placement, and support will look while the case is happening.

Step 3


Court-ordered mediation allows divorcing parents to attempt to resolve custody issues themselves with the guidance of a neutral third party mediator who helps facilitate discussions and compromise. The goal is to develop a custody arrangement that serves the best interests of the child and avoids drawn out court battles.

Step 4

GAL/Custody Evaluation

If needed, a guardian ad litem investigates the child’s best interests. Or in an evaluation, a mental health professional assesses the child and the parents.

Step 5

Pretrial Conference

The conference prepares the judge for the trial, or the case can end here if the parties agree on how to settle everything.

Step 6

Final Negotiations

In the time before the trial date, there is one more chance to negotiate a settlement. Many cases that have not settled settle here because a trial is expensive. However, when the other party is unwilling to see reason, a trial can be necessary.

Step 7

Trial and Finalization

In the trial, all evidence is laid out and each side makes their case for how the final order should be.
After the trial, the judge makes their decisions and lays out the final orders.

Types of Divorce

For an uncontested divorce, you and the other party agree on all the divorce issues and just need help with the legal process.

In a mediated divorce, the two parties meet with a third-party mediation attorney who helps them go through the divorce process together.

A contested divorce is where the two parties go through the process separately because they do not agree on one or more divorce issue.

For immediate help with your family law case, call now
(262) 221-8123

Key Components

After learning about child custody, placement and support, you likely have questions about how these complex topics apply to your specific situation. Here are some key concepts related to child custody, placement and support along with links to more information on each topic.

Seeking legal counsel is often the best way to understand how child custody, placement and support issues apply specifically to you and your children. Call Sterling Lawyers for personalized guidance to help you move forward with confidence.

Child Custody

Custody determines who has the authority to make major decisions for the child. Major decisions include things like where the child goes to school and if they can get a driver’s license.

How Custody Works

The Wisconsin child custody laws outline how the court determines child custody. If the parents are able to agree on who should get custody, then they get to decide. But if they can’t agree, the court will decide for them. The court assumes that both parents will share custody unless one parent is a danger to the child.

Types of Custody

There are three main types of custody. Sole custody means one parent makes all of the major decisions. Joint custody means both parties make the decisions. And split custody means each parent makes the decisions for a different child.

Parenting Plan

Parents can work together or create their own parenting plan if they cannot agree. The parenting plan outlines how parents will move forwards with anything from how the child will be raised to who the child spends their holidays with.

Placement Schedules

There are many different placement schedules and the best one for your family is the one that meets your family’s specific needs. Common placement schedules could be anything from switching off every other day to one parent getting every other weekend.


Co-parenting is when parents intentionally work to put the child’s needs ahead of their own. This means working with the other parent even though it will be difficult.

Child Placement

Placement is where the child is day-to-day and who is making the day-to-day decisions for the child. Daily decisions include things like when the child goes to bed and what they spend their time doing.

Child Support

Child support is when one parent pays the other to balance out the cost of raising a child. It is most often paid when one parent has the child more often or when one parent makes significantly more than the other.

Child Support Calculator

One parent pays child support when there is an imbalance in income or in placement time. Child support is meant to support the child and create positive living situations with both parents. How much child support a party pays can be calculated using our child support calculator.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is child custody determined in Wisconsin?

If parents are able to find a custody and placement plan they are both happy with, the parents determine who gets custody. However, if they cannot agree, then the court will make the decision for them.

What are father’s rights in Wisconsin?

The rights of the father are the same right as the mother if paternity has been established. The court makes decisions about custody based on what is in the best interest of the child.

What makes a parent unfit in Wisconsin?

An unfit parent is one who cannot be trusted to care for their child. This could be due to their refusal to care for their child or their inability to do so. 

What is physical placement?

Physical placement is where the child is and which parent is responsible for them. Different placement schedules are better for different situations. You can work with the other party and the court to find the best schedule for your situation.

What is the most important factor when determining child custody?

The most important factor in the eyes of the court is the best interest of the child. Most of the other factors are specific ways to find what is in the child’s best interest.

Is Wisconsin a 50/50 state for child custody?

Yes, Wisconsin assumes that both parents will share custody of the child. The only way for one party to get sole custody is if it would be in the best interest of the child. 

What is child custody?

Child custody is the legal ability of a parent to make major decisions in a child’s life. Major decisions include decisions about health, education, culture, religion, and extracurricular activities.

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