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Educational Blog

Understanding the Factors Wisconsin Courts Use to Determine Child Custody

On Jan 23, 2019

If you and your spouse or partner decide to go separate ways, there are a lot of important decisions to be made about your future and your children’s future. One of the most stressful parts of terminating a relationship when you have minor children can be the uncertainty about how you will share custody of your children with the other parent. If you and the child’s other parent are not able to come to a custody agreement on your own, a Wisconsin court will need to decide.

The Distinction Between “Custody” and “Placement”

When people hear the word “custody” in a family court matter they often think it means who will have physical custody over the children on a daily basis. However, in Wisconsin, physical custody of the children is typically referred to as “placement.” Placement is the determination of with whom the children live on a daily basis, and the day-to-day decisions of caring for a child. Legal custody actually refers to major decision-making authority for the minor children, including decisions about the children’s education, religious upbringing, medical care, and more.

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How Courts Decide Custody Battles

Wisconsin courts start with a presumption that a child’s best interests will be served by awarding both parents joint legal custody, so each parent has the same decision-making authority. Similarly, courts attempt to make placement decisions that allow children to maximize time with each parent. Nonetheless, there are several factors courts evaluate when making custody and placement determinations:

  • The child’s physical and developmental age, and his or her care needs
  • The living situation each parent can provide, considering whether the situation promotes stability and consistency
  • Each parent’s relationship with the child, including which parent has been the primary caretaker for the child
  • The child’s relationship with other family members or caregivers
  • Each parent’s physical and mental health
  • Any concerns about substance abuse or past child abuse or domestic violence on the part of either parent or anyone else in the household
  • Whether the parents are able to cooperate and communicate with each other
  • The child’s wishes, if he or she is at least 14 years old
  • Any other relevant factors
Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody

Depending on the circumstances, the court usually determines that joint legal custody is appropriate, so each parent shares responsibility with the other. In this case, the parents must co-parent by communicating and agreeing with one other about major child-rearing decisions.

In far fewer cases, the court will award sole legal custody to one parent, giving that parent sole decision-making responsibility for the child.

There is also a third possibility, sometimes used when the parents cannot co-parent about certain issues regarding their child or when one parent is geographically distant from the child and therefore is unavailable to assist with matters such as school-related or medical decisions. In such cases, the court may award one parent sole decision-making authority for one or more particular areas of the child’s care to avoid ongoing disputes, but will then award joint decision-making authority regarding all other decisions.

Your Attorney Can Play an Important Role in Your Child Custody Determination

Ultimately, judges have to make decisions that they believe are in your children’s best interests, based on the information they have available at the time.

When you choose to work with the skilled family law attorneys at Schott, Bublitz & Engel, you can be confident we will help fight for the best possible custody and placement arrangement. To learn more about how we work with clients, call us today at 262.827.1700 or contact us online.


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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