Divorce ends a marriage but does not necessarily end your rights and duties as a parent. Wisconsin’s divorce and family law governs thee important custody issues.
Joint legal custody gives both parents the right to make major decisions about their children, hopefully after consultation. These decisions include health care, education, obtaining a driver’s license or joining the military.
Sole legal custody grants this authority to one parent. Courts may also order that one parent can make major decisions on matters such as education. Joint legal custody is usually granted unless the court orders sole custody because of domestic violence or similar concerns.
Physical placement is the time children spend in each parent’s care. A parent may make reasonable routine daily decisions such as bed and study times, extracurricular activities, diet, and discipline. Both parents should try to be consistent with these decisions and cooperate.
Courts order a placement schedule, which can vary from brief time, or equal time with either parent. Placement during holidays and vacations are covered.
Placement orders need to be specific to avoid confusion, conflict, and stress. The schedule should provide regular and meaningful placement time and maximize the time a parent spends with their child.
Courts consider the best interests of the child in these decisions. This involves the parent’s availability to care for the child, each parent’s wishes, family and other important relationships, earlier parenting time and proposed changes, a child’s needs and wishes, child care availability, and the extent of the parents’ cooperation and communication.
Reaching a custody and placement agreement for the court’s adoption is preferred. If parents cannot reach an agreement, they will have to meet at least once with a mediator.
A court will decide custody and placement matters if mediation is unsuccessful. When this occurs, it will appoint a lawyer to investigate and represent the child’s best interests. Sometimes, a social worker may be appointed.
A parent must receive agreement or court approval if they want to move with their children outside Wisconsin or over 150 miles from their home. Parents may be seriously penalized, through criminal charges or fines, for violating these court orders.
A parent may seek legal assistance to negotiate, pursue and enforce these orders. An attorney can help assure that the order is fair and in the child’s best interest.