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Wisconsin Child Custody
Child Custody in Wisconsin

According to West Virginia Code, Section 48-9-101 and 48-9-102, as a matter of policy, the court's primary concern in allocating custodial and decision-making responsibilities between parents is the best interest of the children.

Divorcing parents submit a permanent parenting plan detailing their plans for rearing the child after they divorce. The court intervenes to settle issues concerning child custody, support, and visitation rights when the parents cannot agree. The court awards either joint custody or sole custody to the parent who can take care of the child. The non-custodial parent obtains visitation rights unless the child's welfare is at risk with the visiting parent.

Mandatory Parenting Class

Wisconsin courts require all divorcing parents with minor children to complete a mandatory parenting class before granting a divorce. This requirement is designed to help parents and children deal with the trauma of divorce and separation. Unless the court grants a waiver, both parents must complete this requirement. Rather than give up an afternoon or evening taking your course in a crowded classroom, you can fulfill this requirement conveniently online at a very reasonable cost. We recommend you take Children in Between Online" to fulfill your court requirement and for the benefit of your children.

Wisconsin Child Custody

In deciding custody, the courts examine:

  • the wishes or preferences as to custody, provided that he or she is mature enough to make such claims;
  • the child's ability to adjust to his/her home, school, and community;
  • the child's relationship with his/her parents, siblings, and other significant family members who directly affect or influence his or her welfare;
  • the child's developmental and educational needs;
  • the parents' wishes or preferences as to custody;
  • the nature of the relationship between the parents and the child;
  • any parenting plan agreed to by spouses;
  • the quality and length of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past;
  • the extent of cooperation and communication between the parents;
  • the mental or physical health of the parties involved in the proceedings;
  • any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse; and
  • any other relevant factors that directly affect the child's welfare, except the parents' gender and race, including the recommendations of a neutral mediator.

The factors mentioned above need to be evaluated to find out if joint custody is plausible, the extent of the parents' cooperation, and the nature of family dynamics.

The Best Interests of the Child

To determine the best interests of the child, the Wisconsin court considers:

  • each parent's wishes;
  • the child's relationship with his/her parents, siblings and extended family members;
  • the child's comfort in his/her home, school and community; and
  • the mental and physical health of all involved parties.

Multiple Children and Child Custody in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin court assumes that a child's best interests is in the same home with his or her siblings, but the state reserves the right to separate children between the parents based on age and the best interests of each child. Legal Custody Laws

In Wisconsin, legal custody refers to which parent is responsible for making major decisions on behalf of the child. Physical placement refers to the parent with whom the child lives. Sole legal custody means that only one parents makes the major decisions.

Litigation Law

Wisconsin law provides for a guardian ad litem, a court-appointed attorney who represents the child. Wisconsin also makes ample use of custody evaluations where a disinterested third party, usually a mental health professional, interviews everyone concerned, including the children, and makes a recommendation to the court about custody.

Modification and the Two-Year Law

The courts are very reluctant to modify custody because it upsets the child's routine. A two-year period must pass before the court entertains a motion to modify routine unless the current situation has become grievously harmful to the child and immediate action must be taken.

Types of Custody and Physical Placement

In Wisconsin child custody may either be joint, where both parents have equal say in major decisions, or sole, where one parent has the say. When one parent has sole custody of a child, the child is also physically placed with her or him most of the time. Joint custody is more loosely defined, and children may end up staying most of the time with one parent or may have split time between both.

Wisconsin differentiates between custody of children and the physical placement of kids. Custody means that a parent is empowered to make major decisions regarding well-being and development, including medical care, education, and whether or not to give parental consent. Physical placement, on the other hand, means the clock time a child is with one of his or her parents during which the parent makes routine and mundane decisions.

Court Considerations and Physical Placement

Wisconsin courts generally believe a healthy relationship with both parents is in a child's best interest. The court usually does whatever it needs to so that the child may be shared with both parents. Other factors considered in determining custody and physical placement of children include:

  • each parent's availability to provide care for the children,
  • each parent's wishes,
  • family and other significant relationships,
  • past parenting time and proposed changes,
  • individual adjustment and needs of each child,
  • availability of child care,
  • communication and cooperation between parents, and
  • support or interference of each parent with the other's relationship with the children

Violations of Court Orders

Parents who violate child custody orders are subject to certain penalties, including allowing for make-up times with children, paying the other parent's attorney fees needed to address such violations or even jail time or fines in extreme circumstances. If a parent refuses to abide by a custody and/or placement order, the other parent can file a motion to enforce it.

Joint Custody Preference

In Wisconsin, when parents marry, they have equal rights to the custody of their child, if they divorce. Wisconsin law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as practically possible in the custody of a child in a divorce case. The court awards joint custody when parents can cooperate in performing their responsibilities toward their child. Typically, Wisconsin awards joint or shared legal custody, provided that both parents are capable of making these decisions and there is not some issue between them such as domestic violence that would prevent them from being able to work together.

Wisconsin operates under the presumption that a child most benefits from having quality, substantial time with both parents. This is called "maximization of placement," and is addressed under Section 767.24 (4)(a)2 of the Wisconsin statutes, requiring judges to make placement schedules that "maximize" a child's time with both parents. This doesn't necessarily mean that the parents get equal time. It means that they both get as much quality time with the child as circumstances allow.

Parental Conduct

Wisconsin courts have also denied visitation when the non-custodial parent has had physically or emotionally abused the child in the past. A non-custodial parent who suffers from a severe mental illness may cause lasting damage to a child.


The Wisconsin courts have full discretion when determining visitation between children and parents. When the court awards child custody to one parent, the other parent has the right to visitation. A parent who would like to contest visitation due to the child's best interests may ask the court to deny visitation. Courts in Wisconsin permit parents to repair the parent-child relationship, and does not deny visitation rights to an incarcerated parent or a parent who has been incarcerated in the past.

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