A skilled Menomonee Falls child custody attorney can advise and guide you through this process. At Karp & Iancu S.C., we have helped many parents in navigating through child custody disputes. We can look at the specific facts of your case and assist you in developing an appropriate strategy to help ensure the courts–and the other parent–respect the rights of you and your children.
Child Custody vs. Placement in Wisconsin
When we speak about child custody in Wisconsin, we are actually talking about two separate-but-related things: custody and placement. In a legal sense, custody refers to the legal right to care for and make major life decisions concerning a child, such as where they go to school. Placement refers to actually the child spending time in the care of a parent.
With respect to custody, a court may award sole custody to one parent or joint custody to both. In most cases, a judge will default to joint custody unless there is some specific reason to award sole custody. For example, if one parent has been consistently absent from the child’s life or committed acts of domestic abuse, the judge is more likely to award the other parent sole custody.
Placement involves deciding how much time the child will spend living with each parent. A parent has primary placement if the child will spend at least 75 percent of overnights living with them. Typically a court will order shared placement, which means that the child will reside with each parent for at least 25 percent of their overnights. If the parents have multiple children, it is also possible to have split placement, where, for example, one child lives with the mom and one child lives with the dad.
Ideally, both parents can come to an agreement on custody and placement and submit a parenting plan to the court for approval. Keep in mind, such agreements need to cover a wide range of issues such as:
- Who will make specific decisions regarding the child’s education, healthcare, and upbringing?
- Will all such decisions be made jointly by the parents, or will one parent have sole authority over certain areas?
- Will one parent have the “right of first refusal” to exercise parenting time if the other parent needs childcare during their scheduled placement?
- What transportation arrangements will be made for moving the child between the parents’ homes?
- Which parent will cover the child on their health insurance?
- Which parent will claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes?
One thing to note here is that when it comes to child support–i.e., how much one parent must pay the other for the child’s care–that is subject to Wisconsin law. Basically, the state has specific guidelines for calculating support obligations based on a percentage of the parent’s gross income and the number of children involved. A judge can deviate from the guidelines, however, and order more or less support depending on the circumstances.
Considering a Child’s Best Interest
If the parents are unable to agree with respect to any issue involving custody, placement, or support, then a judge must decide these questions. In doing so, the court’s paramount goal is to protect the “best interest of the child,” which is not necessarily the same thing as the best interest of either parent. There are a number of factors that a Wisconsin court must consider in determining a child’s best interest, including but not limited to:
- the child’s wishes, if they are old enough to communicate them;
- the child’s history of interacting with their parents, siblings, and other family members;
- the amount of quality time each parent has spent with the child;
- the child’s adjustment to their school, religion, and community;
- the child’s age;
- the child’s developmental and educational needs;
- the child’s need for a predictable and stable living situation;
- the parents’ ability to communicate and cooperate with one another with respect to the child; and
- each parent’s willingness to facilitate the child’s positive relationship with the other parent.