10 Steps to a Child Custody Case in Wisconsin

The child custody process is focused on what is in the best interest of the child. All cases end when the parents agree or when the court rules on a final agreement. Whether all the steps are necessary or not depends on the specifics of your case.

Child custody cases are stressful, and a big part of that stress comes from not knowing what the future will look like. Without talking to you in person, we can’t tell you how your case is likely to end up, but we can tell you what steps each case goes through.

Cases for Custody and Placement

In Wisconsin, child custody refers to who makes major decisions for the child, and placement refers to where the child lives day-to-day. Before you even file to begin your case, you want to think about what your case will look like.

Each case looks different because different situations will require different things. In some cases, parents can work together, so mediation is a great step for them. In other cases, one parent hides things from the other, so the custody study and discovery steps are especially important. And in other cases, parents are never able to come to an agreement, so the trial happens and the court decides for them.

Depending on how your case will look, you will have different steps and need to do different things. So, before you do anything, the first step is preparing.

Step 1: Prepare

Before you begin your child custody case, you need to make sure you have everything in order. You cannot start a child custody case unless paternity has been established. Beyond that, you need to decide whether you need an attorney beside you. If you do want representation, you’ll want a family law attorney such as one from Sterling Law Offices.

You can also prepare by reviewing the Wisconsin custody laws and deciding what placement schedule would be best for your family.

Step 2: File Your Case

The process to file for your custody case is like the divorce filing process. You petition the court by preparing the necessary documents and filing them with your county’s clerk of courts.

After you file your case, you have to serve the other party. This can either be done yourself, by a process server, or by a sheriff. Once the proof of service is provided to the court, the case is officially started.

Some Cases: Get Emergency Orders

Emergency orders can be necessary in certain situations. Emergency orders are only needed when the child’s health and well-being is at risk. They are only needed if a temporary order is not enough because it would take too long.

Step 3: Get Temporary Orders

A temporary order hearing outlines what the orders will be during the case. The orders will cover who makes major decisions for the child and who the child will be with each day. A temporary order can also establish child support if it is needed.

You want to try to get a temporary order as close to what you want for your final order as possible. The temporary order can be seen as a trial period where if the child is doing well, that is proof you know what is good for them.

Step 4: Go to Mediation

In Wisconsin, mediation is required unless the judge excuses it. Mediation is where a third-party mediator meets with you and the other party and tries to help you two come to an agreement. The mediator is usually an attorney with specific training on how to mediate effectively. A judge will only excuse mediation in situations where the parties cannot work together such as in instances of domestic violence.

Step 5: Take a Parenting Class

Wisconsin also requires any parents in a custody case to take a parenting class. It must be a parenting class that the court has approved. The goal of the class is to help parents and children cope with the trauma of a custody case. These classes can be taken online.

For Immediate help with your family law case or answering any questions please call (262) 221-8123 now!

Step 6: Attend Status Conferences

After the case has been open for a couple months, the court schedules a status conference. The status conference is also sometimes called a scheduling conference or review hearing. This is where the judge or commissioner will ask you what the current status of your negotiations is.

If there is a written agreement that both parties agree on, then the case can end here. If you have not come to an agreement, the court may now get other professionals involved.

Some Cases: Appoint a Guardian ad Litem

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed by the court to investigate the best interest of the child. They will interview and work with both the parents and the child in the case. Eventually, the court will ask the GAL for their recommendation, and the court can determine whether to rule along with their recommendation or not.

Some Cases: Participate in a Custody Study

A custody study or custody evaluation is rarer because it is usually only needed in high-conflict cases. A social worker and a psychologist do the study to evaluate the parents and child. They too make a recommendation that the court takes into consideration when they make their final decision.

Step 7: Participate in Discovery

Discovery is the exchange of information between parties to prepare their evidence and arguments for the coming trial. Information exchanged could include things like emails, medical records, tax documents, and more. Depositions can also be a part of discovery where each side can question the other side or other witnesses while they are under oath.

Some Cases: Attend Additional Conferences

Before the trial, judges usually require at least one pre-trial conference. There can be more if the case looks likely to be settled. The court only wants to have a trial if it is necessary. Another additional conference could be if a party requests a status conference to check in on the case’s progress.

Step 8: Prepare for Trial

Before going to trial, there is more paperwork that needs to be done and you must have your arguments prepared. The paperwork you need can be downloaded on our divorce forms page. You will only need the paperwork in the third folder labeled Pre-Trial Hearing.

As for your arguments, you and your attorney will use the information gained throughout the case and in discovery to prove that what you want is in the best interest of the child.

Step 9: Go to Trial

Each party presents their arguments in favor of the parenting plan and outlines what they proposed. Each party brings evidence and has witnesses testify to prove their side is correct. Once each party has made their case, the court makes their final decision.

Step 10: Receive Final Orders

The court signs the final orders where they decide which parent’s side they are ruling in favor of or a mix if necessary. Once the final orders are in, nothing can be done to modify the custody orders until certain requirements have been met.

Are you ready to move forward? Call (262) 221-8123 to schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I file for custody in Wisconsin?

To file for custody, you download the necessary documents and file them with your county’s clerk of courts. There will be a filing fee that you will need to pay as well. The documents can be downloaded on our divorce forms page or on the Wisconsin court’s website.

How do I start a custody case in Wisconsin?

To start a custody case, paternity needs to be established. If paternity is already squared away, then you just need to file the right documents with the court. For additional help, seek a family law attorney.

Is Wisconsin a mother State?

Wisconsin is not a mother state, rather Wisconsin is a best interest state. This means the Wisconsin courts look to rule based on what is in the best interest of the child. So, if it is better for the child to be with the father, that is how they will rule. Or, if it is better for the child to be with the mother, they will rule that way.

What is considered an unfit parent in Wisconsin?

An unfit parent is one who has a negative impact on the child. This could be due to a history of abuse, alcoholism, or criminal activities. Someone can also be an unfit parent if they use parental alienation tactics.

What can be used against you in a custody battle?

Things like a history of a poor relationship with the child or a criminal history can be used against you. However, if you can prove that you have changed in a significant way, that can go a long way to help you.
For example, if you struggle with a mental illness, the court may look negatively on that. But, if you are able to show that you are in therapy, taking necessary medications, and doing anything else you should be doing, that can prove to the court you are responsible enough to take care of a child.