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Legal Custody and Primary, Shared, or Split Placement: Understanding the Differences

On Jul 3, 2019

If you and your child’s other parent no longer live together but you both want to be involved in your child’s life and cannot agree on how that should occur, you may need to petition the court for a ruling on legal custody and physical placement. In Wisconsin, custody and placement often go hand-in-hand. However, they refer to different things. Placement is who the child lives with; custody refers to legal decision-making authority for your child.

When courts make determinations about what is in a minor child’s best interests, the judge may award primary, shared, or split placement. The judge also may award joint or sole legal custody, or something in the middle. In this blog post, we briefly explore the differences between these scenarios.

Legal Custody: Joint vs. Sole

Courts start with the presumption that it is in the child’s best interest for both parents to be involved in making decisions about the child’s health care, education, religious upbringing, and other important matters.  It is possible for the court to award sole legal custody to one parent in Wisconsin, however this is not as common as joint custody.

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When parents have joint custody, it means each parent has an equal say in these decisions, and neither parent’s rights are superior to the other’s. Sole custody means that one parent, often the parent with primary physical placement, has the ultimate say in such decisions and does not necessarily need to obtain input or agreement from the other parent. Sometimes the court will award joint legal custody, but give “impasse power” or final decision-making authority to one parent on select issues.

Physical Placement Options

If the court awards you primary physical placement, it means your child will live with you the majority of the time. Primary placement does not however necessarily mean sole placement. Similarly, shared placement does not always mean parents will exercise placement on a 50/50 basis. Shared placement simply means the child lives with each parent at least 25 percent of the time.

CustodyNot unlike custody determinations, in which the judge starts with the presumption that both parents should share legal decision-making authority, Wisconsin courts attempt to award placement in a way that maximizes meaningful time with each parent based on a variety of factors.

In some cases where parties have more than one child together, the court will order split physical placement of the children. With split placement, one parent has physical placement of one or more of the children while the other parent has physical placement of the other child(ren).  This sometimes occurs where there is an age gap between the parties’ children, or where other circumstances make it more convenient for a child’s residence to be primarily with one parent.

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Custody and Placement Determinations Should be Made with Your Child’s Best Interests in Mind

Ultimately, child custody and placement decisions are to be based on what is best for your child. An experienced Wisconsin family law attorney can help you understand and apply the factors courts consider in making these determinations. Having an experienced family law attorney on your side can vastly improve your chances of success in securing a custody and placement arrangement that is best for you and your children. 

To learn more about how the skilled attorneys at Schott, Bubllitz & Engel help clients with custody, placement, and other legal matters involving children and families, contact us online or call us at 262.827.1700.

AnnMarie Sylla

By AnnMarie Sylla

Attorney AnnMarie M. Sylla focuses her practice on representing clients across southeastern Wisconsin in litigation and family law including complex cases involving divorce, paternity, modifications of child custody and placement, child support and maintenance disputes. Attorney Sylla is known for her passion in fighting for her clients’ interests.

Disclaimer Policy: The information on this website is not legal advice, nor is it intended to be. You should always consult an attorney for advice for your individual situation. We invite you to contact us by letter, by phone or by email. Initial contact creates no attorney-client relationship. Please avoid sending confidential information to us until an attorney-client relationship has been established. 

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