A qualified Fox Point child custody attorney can represent your interests during such proceedings. At Karp & Iancu, S.C., our divorce lawyers can advise you at each stage of the process, from negotiating a possible agreement regarding custody and placement, to arguing your case before a judge if a settlement is not possible. We understand the delicate nature of child custody disputes and will help you in developing a strategy that asserts your rights as a parent while still protecting your children.
How Custody Differs from Placement in Fox Point
Wisconsin law actually uses two distinct terms when dealing with these cases. The first is custody. This refers to which parent has the legal right to care for a child and make major decisions concerning them. It is possible for both parents to share joint custody of a child. Alternatively, one parent can have sole custody.
In contrast, placement describes the period of time that a child actually spends in the care of a parent. If a child lives with one parent more than 75 percent of the time–based on where the child spends their nights–then that parent has what is known as primary placement. If the child spends at least 25 percent of their time with each parent, that is considered shared placement. In certain cases it is also possible to have a split placement, where there are two or more children and each parent has primary placement with at least one child.
Parents can reach a voluntary agreement with respect to both custody and placement. This is often preferable, since it not only reduces the need for contested litigation, but it also creates more of an incentive for each parent to actually honor the terms they agreed to. Even if an agreement is not possible initially, the parents can agree to mediation, where a third-party assists them in reaching an agreement.
What If a Judge Has to Decide?
There are always cases where the parents cannot reach a voluntary agreement on either child custody or placement. This means that a Circuit Court judge must hold a trial to decide the matter. There is no simple, cut-and-dry answer as to how an individual judge will decide a particular custody dispute. The law requires a court to consider a wide range of factors in determining what would be in the best interests of the child. Some of the more important ones include:
- the stated wishes of the parents;
- the stated wishes of the child, if they are old enough to express them;
- the child’s relationship with each of the parents;
- the child’s age;
- the child’s developmental needs;
- the physical and mental health of the parents and the child;
- the need for a predictable and stable schedule for the child;
- whether each parent can foster a good relationship between the child and the other parent;
- any history of abuse or neglect of the child;
- any history of domestic violence in the family;
- any history of drug or alcohol abuse in the family; and
- any other factor that the court considers relevant to the child’s best interest.
Again, it is important to emphasize that there is no single factor that will determine a judge’s ruling. You should never assume, for example, that just because the child says they want to live with one parent that the court will simply go along with that. Nor should you rely on outdated legal assumptions, such as assuming that courts “always favor the mother” in a custody dispute. They do not.
Can a Child Custody or Placement Order Be Changed?
Once a court issues a decision (or approves a settlement) in a custody or placement case, the terms can only be modified under limited circumstances. Both parents can agree to make a change and submit it to the court for approval. But if one parent wishes to make a unilateral change, they must demonstrate to the court that either the child is in “imminent danger” from the current arrangements, or that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances” affecting the child’s best interests.