A Guide To Divorce And Child Custody Laws

No one is affected more by a divorce than children. Oftentimes, negotiating child custody and placement terms results in an intense courtroom showdown. The process for determining child custody in Wisconsin has changed since the year 2000, as part of a bigger initiative to make family legal decisions with everyone’s best interests in mind.

Fighting to see your child as much as possible is natural; it’s a sign of how much you really love your children. However, children rarely understand the complicated issues behind your divorce or these arguments, and should never be leveraged against your ex-spouse. This follows the golden rule of any Wisconsin divorce proceeding:

Never, ever place the child in the middle of a dispute between you and your spouse.
Prior to May 2000, Wisconsin divorce laws called for any custody or placement negotiation to follow whatever path was in “the best interests of the child.” Since then, laws have changed to accommodate for parent’s custody rights.

Now, in addition to “the best interests of the child” guideline, Wisconsin divorce courts must consider maximizing parent-child time. This doesn’t necessarily guarantee a 50/50 placement split between parents, but it minimizes the chances for an unfair ruling that favors one parent over the other.

Child custody decisions in Wisconsin are rendered based on two key components: “legal custody” and “physical placement.”

Legal Custody
What hospital serves as the child’s primary care facility? Where does he/she go to school? What religion does he/she subscribe?

These questions, among others, are classified as legal custody decisions that have an effect on the everyday routine of a child. Legal custody, depending on the court’s custody provisions, can be a dual or single-parent endeavor. Current Wisconsin divorce statutes default to a joint custody arrangement, which calls for both parents to have a say in a child’s life decisions. Sole custody is just as it sounds: one parent making these choices for the child.

Courts take a few factors into consideration when deciding which option is in the child’s best interest:

  1. Whether the parents have agreed to a pre-negotiated settlement on joint/sole custody. Courts greatly respect mutual agreements between parents, and will often adhere to these terms if possible.
  2. When just one parent wants joint custody, things get trickier. The court must determine how interested both parents are in actively participating in their child’s life, whether they’re able to perform their parental duties on an equal level, if there are any current situations that interfere with a joint custody arrangement, and both parents are capable of making the best choices for their child in a logical, cooperative way.

As always, your child’s best interests are at the center of the court’s decision. They will be looking for any red flags that could lead to an unhappy, unhealthy life situation for the child. This may result in a hybrid joint/sole custody ruling (one parent chooses schools, both choose a religion, etc.).

Physical placement
On the other side of the legal coin, physical placement is the time each parent spends with the child and the actual parenting schedule. Courts treat every child custody placement decision on each case’s own, unique merits. It is determined based on parent and child preferences, living cost and time adjustments, the parents’ mental and physical health, any history of physical or drug/alcohol abuse, and more.

Because every one of these factors depends on where the parents live, where the child goes to school, the parents’ personal history of problems, and much, much more, it’s difficult to make a general outcome prediction for any physical placement ruling. This is when it becomes absolutely crucial to have a top notch family law firm and divorce attorney on your side.

Divorce is never an easy task, especially when it affects your children. Understanding the child custody laws in Wisconsin, as well as any other state, can be a great asset as you prepare for the most difficult battle in your divorce. Knowing what to expect in the courtroom, and after the verdict, helps you to keep giving your child all the love and support they need during this unfortunate time in their life.

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