Please contact Karp & Iancu, S.C. today. We have helped parents involved in child custody disputes as part of a divorce or paternity hearing. Our team is prepared to:
- Examine the specific circumstances of your case;
- Gather all documentation necessary; and
- Develop a strategy to help ensure your rights are protected as a parent.
What is Child Custody?
Most people probably define custody as physical possession of a child. But that’s not the legal meaning in Wisconsin.
“Custody” in our state actually refers to the power to make important decisions for your children. For example, issues involving medical care, education, after-school activities, and religious upbringing typically require parental permission. If you have child custody, you have a say in these matters.
Child custody can be sole or joint. If you have sole custody, you have the sole right to make these decisions. With joint custody, both parents have equal say. In our experience, most custody is joint unless there has been abandonment or a history of abuse.
What is Physical Placement?
Wisconsin uses the term “physical placement” to refer to physical possession of the child. In other words, who does your child spend the night with? When parents are divorcing, they are often most worried about placement.
Wisconsin prefers that both parents are involved in their children’s lives, so it is unlikely one parent will have 100% of the time. A parent will have primary placement when a child spends more than 75% of their overnights with him or her. Shared placement exists when each parent has the child for more than 25% of the time.
In our experience, most judges prefer shared physical placement. However, parents often disagree about how to precisely divide their child’s time. For example, both parents might want their children to live with them during the school year and spend a long period during the summer with the other.
Creating a Placement Schedule
Parents can reach an agreement on both custody and placement. Not every divorce needs a high-stakes child custody fight. In our experience, parents who craft their own placement schedule express higher levels of satisfaction and are more likely to stick to the plan in the long run. They can reduce disagreements going forward and reduce stress.
If parents can’t immediately agree to a plan, they might participate in mediation. This is a series of meetings where parents and their lawyers meet with a third-party neutral to discuss child custody and placement. Many spouses find mediation helpful at overcoming roadblocks and reaching a plan each side can agree to.
How Do Judges Determine Custody & Placement?
Unfortunately, parents cannot always agree, so it’s up to a judge to decide custody and placement. To help with the process, the state has created a list of factors a judge must consider before reaching a decision. In legal speak, these are the “best interest of the child” factors and include:
- Each parent’s wishes
- The child’s wishes
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- Each parent’s mental and physical health, as well as the child’s
- Each parent’s history of taking care of the child
- A history of co-parenting
No one factor determines the outcome. For example, a child’s desire is an important consideration, but judges do not automatically defer to whom the child wants to live with. In certain cases, the judge might appoint a Guardian ad Litem to investigate the child’s wishes and other considerations before reporting back to the court.
Can You Modify a Custody or Placement Order?
Yes—but only in certain situations:
- Agreement. You and the other parent could agree to a change, which often happens as children age. Over time, a plan which worked in the past might be unrealistic, especially as children participate in extracurricular activities on weekends and during vacations. Parents can draft a stipulation and submit it to the court for approval.
- Imminent harm. Typically, you can only modify an order that is less than two years old if you show that your child is in danger. For example, the other parent might have a new romantic partner who is abusing your child, or your child is being neglected.
- Substantial change in circumstances. This is the standard if your order is at least two years old. You must also establish that any proposed order is in your child’s best interests. One substantial change could be a new work schedule which impedes seeing your child.
How Do You Enforce a Child Support Order?
Sadly, parental disagreements often continue after divorce. And some parents use their children as pawns in a power struggle.
If you’re being denied time with your children, seek enforcement in court. Any intentional violation of a placement order could result in a finding of contempt. A judge might fine the other parent or possibly award you more time with the children as a result of keeping them away from you. You should meet with a Milwaukee child custody attorney as soon as possible. We will need evidence you were available to pick up your children and that the other parent unreasonably interfered with your parenting time.
Unmarried women who give birth to a child have sole legal custody of their child. A man must establish his paternity in these situations, otherwise he won’t have a right to see the child or an obligation to pay child support.
There are certain steps to take to establish paternity. A man might agree he is the father and consent to paternity. But in many cases, the court will order a DNA test, which conclusively shows paternity. We encourage you to contact an attorney as soon as possible if you want to establish paternity. A mother seeking child support can also initiate a paternity action.