After a family law judge has issued a child custody order, it is legally binding and final. Child custody orders can be modified in some instances, but doing so is quite difficult, particularly right after the order has been issued.
If you have a child custody dispute, it is important to speak to a lawyer right away. Our Brookfield child custody attorneys will review the facts of your case, collect all necessary documents, and prepare a strategy that will protect your parental rights.
Understanding Child Custody in Brookfield
Many people mistakenly believe that child custody refers to physical possession of the child, but that is not the case in the Badger State. In Wisconsin, custody refers to a parent or guardian’s authority to make important decisions for a child. These decisions often involve education, medical care, the religious upbringing of the child, and the extra-curricular activities the child will participate in.
The family courts can award either sole or joint custody. Sole custody gives one parent the sole right to make decisions for the child. Joint custody, on the other hand, allows both parents to have an equal say when making decisions for the child. The family courts typically try to award joint custody with the only exception being when there is a history of abuse or abandonment.
Understanding Physical Placement in Brookfield
Physical possession of a child in Wisconsin is referred to as “physical placement.” This term refers to which parent will spend certain times and dates with the child, including overnight visits, weekends, and holidays. When two parents get a divorce, it is often physical placement they are most concerned about.
Like with child custody, the family courts presume that it is in the child’s best interests to spend time with both parents. As such, it is very rare that one parent is awarded 100 percent of physical placement time. If a child spends more than 75 percent of overnight visits with one parent, that parent is considered to have primary placement. When each parent has a child for more than 25 percent of the time, the two parties are considered to have shared placement.
Parents often cannot agree on what is a fair shared placement. For example, both parents may want to spend the majority of the summer with the child. When parents cannot agree to a placement schedule, a court will make the final decision.
How to Create a Placement Schedule
When going through a divorce, the issues of child custody and placement do not have to become contentious, and they do not even have to go to court. It is possible for parents to agree on both issues and this avenue is generally recommended. When parents can reach an agreement, both sides generally walk away from proceedings feeling better about the arrangement, which means each side is more likely to comply with the plan, reducing the amount of stress each side feels and to reduce the potential for disputes arising in the future.
Even when parents cannot initially agree on a placement schedule, they may enter mediation. During mediation, each party will meet with a neutral third party mediator, as well as the attorneys representing each side. The mediator does not make final decisions but only tries to help the two sides communicate and compromise so an agreement can be reached.
Factors Considered in Child Custody and Placement Decisions
There are times when parents cannot agree on child custody and placement issues. In these cases, the matter must go to court and a judge will make the final decision. The Wisconsin Statutes outline a number of factors to consider, and they are all meant to reflect the best interests of the child. There are many factors considered, which include but are not limited to:
- The wishes of each parent
- The wishes of the child, when the child is of a certain age and maturity
- The relationship the child has with each parent
- The mental and physical health of the parents
- The mental and physical health of the child
- Any prior history of co-parenting
It is a combination of factors, and no one factor alone, that will help determine child custody and placement issues.
Modifying Child Custody and Placement Orders
It is possible to modify child custody and placement orders, but only when certain circumstances are present. These are as follows:
- Agreeing to a change: There are times when parents both agree that the custody and placement schedule they once had no longer makes sense. In these instances, the two parties can draft an agreement and submit it to the court for approval.
- Imminent danger: Usually, child custody orders cannot be modified for two years after they are issued. However, if you can show that the child is in imminent danger, such as if they are being abused or neglected by your former spouse’s new romantic partner, you can petition the court to modify the original order sooner.
- Substantial change in circumstances: If your child custody or placement order was issued two or more years ago, you can petition the court for a modification if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. You must show that the proposed change is in the best interests of the child.
Modifying child custody and placement orders is never easy. It is critical that you work with a Brookfield child custody attorney who can give you the best chance of a positive outcome.