Child Custody vs. Child Placement: What is the Difference? Our Milwaukee Divorce Lawyer Answers Here

May 15, 2024 Divorce

Custody and Placement are two family law concepts that our Milwaukee divorce lawyers have heard from our Milwaukee clients are often confused or used interchangeably. However, they are very different and are, in some ways, not even related in family law cases and divorce mediation!

In Wisconsin, child custody refers to the right of a parent to make major decisions for the child. Major decisions include such things as consent to marry, consent to enter military service, consent to obtain a driver’s license and authorization for nonemergency health care and choice of school and religion.

During the Divorce Proceedings, What is the Difference Between Sole Custody and Joint Custody?

Sole Custody

Custody can be “sole”—meaning only one parent has the right to make major decisions, or “joint”—meaning both parents have equal rights to make those decisions and must make them together. A parent can have joint custody even if his child does not live with him or spend any overnights at his Milwaukee, WI house. Likewise, it is possible for a parent to have liberal visitation with his child even though the other parent has sole child custody. There is a presumption in Wisconsin that parents should share joint custody—even in situations where the parents were never married or never lived together. Sole custody to only one parent is very rare in an uncontested divorce or contested divorce in Milwaukee, WI involving minor children.

One prominent exception to joint custody is when a child is born to an unmarried mother in Milwaukee, WI. An unmarried mother has sole custody unless and until the child’s father establishes his legal custody rights to solve family law issues. Simply signing a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement at the hospital will not give him legal custody rights with these kinds of family law matters. It will declare him to be the child’s legal father, but he will still have to ask a court to establish custody, placement, and child support terms.

Another exception to the presumption of joint custody is when one parent has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal violence or domestic violence. In such instance, there is a presumption that the victim-parent should have sole custody with the help of divorce attorneys.

Joint Custody

When parents have joint custody, they are both expected to make day-to-day decisions for their children that are consistent with their major decision making rights during the divorce process. For example, if the parents have joint custody and agree that a child should be raised in the Catholic religion, it would be reasonable for each parent to decide whether or not the child should go to Mass in the local community during his or her period of placement. However, if one parent decided to take the child to services at a Jewish Synagogue or enroll the child in a Jewish school instead, this would be a violation of the joint custody order because it goes against the major decision regarding religion reached by both parents in the divorce case set by their divorce attorney in Milwaukee, WI. 

Likewise, if the parents make the major custodial decision to send their child to public school, one parent could not unilaterally enroll the child in a parochial school or in a virtual academy—even if it were only on his or her designated placement days.

Our Family Law Attorneys Explain the Difference Between Primary Placement and Shared Placement

Placement, on the other hand, refers to where the child sleeps at night following uncontested divorces or contested divorces in Milwaukee County. There are two types of placement in Wisconsin: “primary”—where the child sleeps at one parent’s house more than 75 percent of the time, and “shared”—where the child sleeps at each parent’s house more than 25 percent of the time. Shared placement is much more common than primary placement.

Primary Placement:

Primary placement with one parent is most common when the parents live far from each other or when one parent cannot (or does not want to) have an established, frequent parenting schedule. This can cause these types of complex cases during this difficult process that much harder. Sometimes one parent has primary placement because the other parent has an unorthodox work schedule (such as working third shift or traveling extensively) and he or she cannot have the child overnight on a consistent basis.

Courts do not automatically assume a young infant should be primarily placed with its mother. It is common to have shared parenting schedules even with young babies or toddlers. The court also does not assume domestic violence issues between the parents should result in an award of primary placement to the victim parent. Rather, the court can consider the abuse among a list of factors impacting the child’s best interests such as the ability of the parents to cooperate and communicate, whether each parent can support the child’s relationship with the other parent, the child’s age and developmental needs, and the child’s wishes among several other factors.

Shared Placement:

Shared placement exists if each parent has the child overnight at least twenty-five percent of the time (or, on average, approximately two nights per week).  Shared placement can be equal or unequal.

In equal shared placement arrangements, each parent has the child overnight fifty percent of the time. Sometimes, the child alternates full weeks with each parent. Other equal schedules have the child spend every Monday and Tuesday overnight with one parent and every Wednesday and Thursday overnight with the other parent. Then, the parents alternate placement on the weekends from Friday through Sunday overnight. There are many ways to create equal shared placement schedules.

Similarly, there are many ways to create unequal shared placement schedules. Sometimes, one parent as the child during the week and the other parent has the child each weekend from Friday after school until Monday morning. Under other schedules, the parents may alternate weekends while one parent has the child for two or three nights in the “off weeks” when he or she doesn’t have the child for the weekend.

When parents cannot agree on a placement schedule, the court will examine a number of statutory factors to determine what kind of schedule is best for the child.

To discuss what kind of custody and placement arrangements might be best for your family, contact one of our experienced custody and placement lawyers. If Milwaukee residents have any other questions or issues, call our Milwaukee divorce lawyers now at: (414) 453-0800.