If you are involved in such a dispute, our experienced Menomonee Falls parental rights attorneys can help. At Karp & Iancu, S.C., our firm has been helping parents with their legal problems for more than 30 years. If you are looking to establish or enforce your parental rights, we can offer you legal advice and representation.
What Are Your Child Custody Rights in Wisconsin?
Whether parents are divorcing or were never married, establishing child custody rights is often a key point of contention. Many parents–especially unmarried fathers–are unsure of their rights to begin with. But as a matter of law, both mothers and fathers are presumed to have the same right to seek custody of their children.
As a general rule, it is easier for the mother to establish parental rights simply because there is no question as to their status as a parent. The father’s status, in contrast, may be the subject of a paternity proceeding. Paternity is the legal process of establishing fatherhood. While it is common for both parents to stipulate to a father’s paternity, if there is a disagreement then a more complex legal procedure is involved. It is critical, however, for a father to establish paternity before he is allowed to assert any parental rights or responsibilities under Wisconsin law.
Placement and Custody of Children
Although people commonly refer to “child custody” when speaking about which parent a child will live with, in legal terms there is “custody” and “placement.” Child custody actually refers to which parent will exercise legal decision-making authority for the child.
In contrast, Child placement refers to where the child will actually spend their time. This is based on how many nights the child stays with a parent. If one parent has more than 75 percent of nights, they have primary physical placement. But if each parent has at least 25 percent of nights, that is considered shared physical placement. Child placement also covers subjects such as where the child will spend weekends and school holidays.
Some parents mistakenly believe that the law automatically favors the mother when it comes to making placement and custody decisions. But in reality, the law actually presumes it is better for the child to have an effective and positive relationship with both parents. So judges will tend to favor some form of joint custody and shared physical placement whenever possible.
Determining the Best Interests of the Child
Indeed, although parental rights are a key concern for mothers and fathers alike, it is also important to understand that Wisconsin courts are ultimately charged with protecting the “best interests of the child,” which is not always the same thing as the best interests of either or both parents. Ultimately, any dispute regarding custody, placement, or support is governed by this standard.
Wisconsin law establishes a number of factors that a judge must consider when deciding a child’s best interest in a particular case. Some of those factors include:
- the wishes of the parents;
- the wishes of the child;
- the cooperation and communication between the parents;
- whether each parent can support the child’s relationship with the other parent;
- the child’s relationship with siblings or other people affecting the child’s best interests;
- the amount and quality of time each parent has spent with the child in the past and proposes to spend with the child in the future; and
- whether there is a history of abuse, neglect, or misconduct on the part of either parent or a member of their household.
At the end of the day, a court may consider any factor that it considers relevant to the child’s best interests. So parents need to be aware of this standard when asserting, or attempting to assert, their parental rights under the law.