Three Things The Court Doesn’t Care About In Your Custody Battle

Parents often want to know how they can get full custody of their children. “Custody” describes the right to make major decisions for a child. The presumption in the state of Wisconsin is that parents should have joint custody. Custody has nothing to do with where the children live day-to-day, and obtaining sole custody is extremely difficult in Wisconsin.

Parents who want sole custody will often cite the following as reasons the other parent is unfit to share in joint decision-making. However, you may be surprised to learn these allegations will almost never result in awarding sole custody to a parent. Here are three of the most common accusations that don’t really matter to a court’s custody decision.


Parents frequently allege the other parent is a “narcissist”. They send their attorneys articles and recommend books on narcissism to help them “understand what they are dealing with”. The parent recites a litany of offenses and narcissistic tendencies as proof the opposing parent cannot love their children, prioritize their best interests, or cooperate with a co-parent. However, unless a parent has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder by a mental health professional — and can prove that the parent’s diagnosis negatively impacts their parenting abilities — a court will not give substantial weight to claims of narcissism.

It is true the court must consider a parent’s mental health when determining child custody. There must, however, be proof that the parent’s mental health condition interferes with the child’s well-being. In general, mental health conditions for which a parent is being successfully treated (and that do not negatively impact the children) will not adversely affect the court’s custody decision.

Marijuana Use:

Parents often see this as an “ace in the hole” during a custody dispute. They assume a court could never side with a parent who uses recreational drugs. Oh, how times have changed! When making a custody determination, a court must consider “whether either party has had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse”. However, this is only one of 16 factors the court must consider — and the court gets to decide how important each of those factors are. More often in recent years, courts are finding that occasional recreational marijuana use is not important to their custody decisions.

Unless a parent can prove that the other parent’s marijuana use is “a significant problem”, definitively classify it as “drug abuse”, AND show that it negatively affects the child’s well-being, it is not likely to factor into the court’s decision. At most, the court may order both parties to refrain from any marijuana use during their periods of placement with the children.

A Criminal Record:

Parents seeking sole custody are likely to cite the other parent’s criminal conviction or prior jail sentence as a reason not to share joint decision-making rights. Their argument can sit anywhere from the other parent being “dishonest”, “unreliable”, to as far as “dangerous”. The fact is that unless the parent’s criminal conviction relates directly to the child (such as for neglect, abuse, or domestic violence), it is unlikely to affect a court’s custody decision.

If one parent raises the other’s criminal history in a custody dispute, the court will look at the nature of the offense, how long ago it happened, whether the parent is still on (and complying with) probation, and even more nuanced factors. A criminal record in and of itself is not a bar to having joint custody.