Understanding Child Custody Under Wisconsin Family Law

When parents divorce, their primary concern is preserving the relationship with their child and shielding their child from the stress and animosity of legal proceedings. D'Angelo & Grabow, LLP provides courtroom advocacy and mediator services to help parents with those goals.

We answer some common questions about custody and placement, and urge you to make an appointment for a free initial consultation if you need legal counsel for a custody dispute.

What is legal custody?

Legal custody refers to decision-making about the child’s education, health, religious upbringing and extracurriculars. In most cases, both parents will have joint legal custody even if the child lives primarily with one parent.

What is physical placement?

This refers to the time that the child spends in each household. During physical placement (aka “physical custody”), that parent has authority over routine daily decisions about the child. Wisconsin law does not require equal placement, but does require that both parents have regular, meaningful placement to maintain a strong bond with the child.

How are legal custody and placement decided?

In a contested custody case, the court considers numerous factors, including the wishes of each parent, the wishes of the child, the child’s age and development, the child’s relationship with each parent, their relationship with siblings, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, the parents’ level of cooperation and communication, the parents’ willingness to support a healthy relationship with the co-parent, and whether there are any bad influences or threats to the child’s well-being, such as drug use, criminal activity or domestic violence.

Does the mother automatically get custody of young children?

That may have been true once upon a time. Today the family courts of Wisconsin will award primary placement to the mother or the father based on the best interests of the child. Statistically, moms are more likely to be awarded placement of infants and toddlers, not because of a pro-mother bias but because they typically have been the child’s primary caregiver and have a stronger bond. As children get older the court is more likely to consider dads for primary placement.

Can the custodial parent move the kids out of Wisconsin?

Children cannot be relocated without the consent of the other parent or the approval of the court that has custody jurisdiction. If the noncustodial parent opposes parent relocation, the issue will be decided in a contested hearing. If the court does authorize the move, it will be necessary to revisit the parenting agreement and possibly child support.

Can I get visitation if I am not married to the mother?

When parents are unmarried, the mother has sole custody and decision-making authority unless the court rules differently. If the father is not listed on the birth certificate, he must first establish paternity through a DNA test. Once he is proven to be the father, he can petition for visitation rights or shared custody.

Can an older child decide which parent they want to live with?

The court will consider the wishes of an older child who can articulate a reason for wanting to live with their mom or dad. There is no magic age of maturity and the child’s preference is only one factor the court considers in initial custody orders or later custody modifications.

More Custody Questions?

This FAQ is probably just the tip of the iceberg. At D'Angelo & Grabow, LLP, we believe in educating and empowering clients to guide them to sound decisions in divorce and family matters. Arrange a free consultation by calling 262-383-2700 or use the online form.