The Difference Between Custody and Placement

Custody and placement can be confusing terms, but they have important distinctions. In Wisconsin, child placement refers to where the child lives, whereas child custody is the legal decision-making authority for your child. The Wisconsin courts will determine the best interest of the child and award either joint legal custody or sole legal custody.

Legal Custody

Though a major misconception, legal custody does not mean where a child lives. What it does mean, is the legal ability to employ decisions in regards to your child's health care, religion, schooling, obtaining a driver's license, etc. These decisions can be made by one or both parents depending on whether or not there is a joint custody or sole custody agreement involved.

In the case of a joint custody order, one parent does not have more right over these decisions than the other. However, in some rare cases the court may decide that one parent has sole right over one particular decision, such as the education of a child. In that case, the other parent has no right over the education choices for the child even though there is a joint custody agreement. It is also possible that even if both parents have joint custody, the courts may still have one spouse pay child support.

Physical Placement

Physical placement is a term in which a child is in the physical care of each parent. The law does not require equal placement time for each parent, but rather a schedule that is in the best interest of the child. Many things are taken into consideration when determining the schedule, such as the ability of each parent to care for the child, the child's wishes, the parents' wishes, cooperation between parents, family, or “significant other” relationships, etc.

Routine Daily Decisions

Routine daily decisions include daily activities such as diet, social activities, discipline, etc. If there is a joint custody agreement[1], both parents have a right to medical and dental records, and school records. In instances where a daily activity may overlap placement, parents must discuss the issue with each other and make arrangement accordingly.

Making it Easy on Everyone

Divorces often make it difficult to communicate, but keeping your composure – at least while talking about the best interest of the child – makes it easier to come to agreement. Try to develop a set routine that works for everyone before going to court, preferably one that makes the child and both parents happy. This will make custody hearing significantly less stressful.

If Placement Is Adjusted, Will Child Support Be Adjusted as Well?

While it is not completely certain, there is a chance support payments would be required.

In the case Abel v. Johnson, 135 Wis.2d 219, 400 N.W.2d 22 (Ct. App. 1986)[2], the court decided that a change in physical placement impacts the financial needs and abilities of both parties. The family court's analysis of evidence shows its discretionary determination to award support.


References: [1]Shared vs. Joint Custody, [2]Abel v. Johnson (1986),


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