Sole Custody in Wisconsin

Sole custody can mean different things depending on how the parent understands the terminology, which can be convoluted. 

  1. Sole legal custody – this means one parent have all the decision making authority regarding major decisions (learn more here)
  2. Sole physical custody – this means the child live with one parent primarily as is seen in an every other weekend visitation schedule.
  3. Full custody – this means one parent has the decision making authority and has primary placement of the child.

Sole custody is a term typically used incorrectly. Typically when parents use this phrase they mean full custody. Full custody gives both legal and physical custody exclusively to one parent. Even when one parent has sole custody rights to the child, it doesn't necessarily mean the other parent is completely excluded from the child's life, but it typically means one parent's role in a child's life is significantly diminished.

Visitation can still be arranged with the parent and child, however, that parent will not have any physical or legal rights for the child.

This typically occurs when substance abuse or mental health issues prevent a parent from fully engaging with a child. There are other instances that can lead to sole custody, such as a parent moving out of state, but it is always rarer for one parent to have sole legal custody of a child. Additionally, when sole legal custody is part of the order, sole physical placement is more common as well.

Sole custody was used more in the past than it is today. Joint custody has been gaining traction while sole custody continues to trend downward. This is due in part because the courts take the position that the best interest of a child, in general, means the involvement of both parents. When a court is required to make a decision on child custody, due to parents not working together, they weigh everything against “the best interest of the child” standard.


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