Sole Custody in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, sole custody or full custody is given to a parent when it is in the best interest of the child. Sole legal custody is when one parent has full decision-making authority over the child, and it often includes primary placement.

Just because someone is the biological parent of a child, does not mean they are entitled to child custody of that child. In those situations where one parent should not have custody of the child, sole custody is given to the parent who can care for the child.

If you are worried about the safety or welfare of your child when they are with their other parent, sole custody is one way to protect them.

The Meaning of Sole Custody

When a parent has sole legal custody, they make major decisions for their child without needing input from the other parent. This is the opposite of joint custody where parents make major decisions together. Major decisions include:

  • Choice of school,
  • Choice of religion,
  • Consent to marry,
  • Consent to join the military,
  • Consent to get a driver’s license, and
  • Authorization of non-emergency healthcare[1]

The statutes specifically mention that major decisions are not limited to this list. For example, it could include other things like the ability to move with the child. Where the child lives day-to-day is called the child’s placement. Placement is a separate issue from custody.

How Placement Works with Sole Custody

When a parent has sole custody, that does not necessarily mean they have sole custody and placement of the child. Placement used to be called physical custody, so that leads to a lot of confusion for people.

Placement’s equivalent to sole custody is called primary placement. Primary placement is when one parent has the child in their care all or most of the time.

Oftentimes sole custody goes along with primary placement. But there are cases where one party has sole custody and the other has partial or even 50-50 placement. Or the other parent may only have supervised visitation if they pose too much of a danger to the child. This is when another party such as a grandparent or a social worker must be present during visitation to ensure the child’s safety.

For further explanation, see our physical custody vs. legal custody article.

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

How to Get Full Custody in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin statutes outline when the court can grant a parent sole custody. The first and easiest option is when both parents agree that one party should have sole custody. This happens sometimes, but more often parents don't agree on one of them having sole custody.

If one parent requests sole custody and one of the following is true, the court can grant that party sole custody.

  1. The other party is not capable of performing parental duties or responsibilities.
  2. The other party does not wish to have an active role in raising the child.
  3. A condition exists that interferes with the ability to have joint custody.
  4. Parties are unable to cooperate in the decision-making required in joint custody.[2]

Examples of spousal abuse fall under the fourth scenario. The court does not expect people to cooperate with the people who previously abused them.

Before Paternity Is Established

The party who gave birth to the child has sole custody of a child if paternity has not been established. For example, if unmarried parents don’t use voluntary acknowledgment, the mother has sole custody. If the other parent wants to establish paternity, they can through court-approved methods.

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


When Should I Pursue Sole Custody?

A parent should pursue sole custody when it is in their child’s best interest. This could be for a variety of reasons, but most boil down to the safety and well-being of the child. For example, if one parent is abusive or cannot provide a safe environment, it may be best to pursue sole custody.

To best understand if you should go for sole custody or to get help doing so, contact Sterling Lawyers to speak with an attorney.

If I Have Custody, Will I Receive Child Support?

Child support is dependent on several factors, and one of the most important factors is the placement schedule. In cases of sole custody, the other party will likely have to pay the child support if you also have primary palcement. To calculate how much child support you would receive, use our child support calculator.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does sole custody mean for the other parent?

For the parent that does not have custody, it means they cannot make major decisions for the child. The parent with custody can talk to the other parent about decisions if they want, but ultimately, it is up to the parent who has custody.
However, sole custody does not mean the other parent never sees the child. The other parent may still have placement or visitation with the child. Sole custody is not the same thing as termination of parental rights.

What is the difference between primary and sole custody?

Primary and sole custody refers to different things. Primary is usually used with placement, meaning where the child is day-to-day. Sole refers to custody, which is who gets to make major decisions in the child’s life.

What is an unfit parent in Wisconsin?

An unfit parent is incapable of caring for the child. This may be due to mental health, addiction, or other negative situations. If one parent is unfit, the court will likely give the other sole custody.

How is child custody determined in Wisconsin?

Child custody is determined by looking at the factors outlined in Wisconsin’s child custody laws. Some of the factors include the parent’s relationship with the child, time spent with the child, and any history of abuse or neglect.

What is the most common child custody arrangement?

The courts always start at the assumption that each parent will get 50/50 placement with the child. How the exact schedule looks depends on each parent and child’s schedule. Some examples are 2-2-3, 3-3-4-4, and 7-7.

References: 1. WI Statute, 767.001 § (2m). Definitions, Scope, Jurisdiction, and Recognition of Judgements. | 2. WI Statute, 767.41 § (2)(b)1-2. Child Custody, Placement, and Visitation.

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