In this article...

Watch Our Video
Kevin O'Flaherty

If you’re facing custody decisions in Wisconsin, understanding the state’s laws is essential. This article zeroes in on precisely what you need to know about Wisconsin custody laws, offering clear explanations of sole and joint custody and the factors that influence the court’s decisions. Learn how legal and physical custody are determined, and the roles both you and the court play in shaping the well-being of your child. With concise information tailored to your concerns, this guide aims to empower you with knowledge and confidence as you navigate the custody process.

Wisconsin child custody law has no new significant updates for 202, read on to learn more about child Wisconsin child custody laws updates over the last 10-15 years.

Understanding Wisconsin's Legal Custody Framework

Wisconsin Child Support Law Updates

There are two kinds of legal custody according to Wisconsin law: sole and joint. Sole legal custody is granted to one parent, providing them with the exclusive authority to make decisions for the child. This is often granted in cases where the other parent is deemed unfit.

Conversely, joint custody implies an equal share of legal custody rights for both parents and neither possesses superior legal authority over the other. Hence, the onus of making crucial decisions for the child falls on both parents., such as education, healthcare, and religious upbringing.

What Constitutes Sole Legal Custody?

Typically, the mother garners sole custody when the parents are unmarried until a different order is issued by the court. The court must consider several factors before conferring sole legal custody to a parent such as:

  • the child’s wishes
  • the parents’ ability to cooperatively make child-related decisions
  • specific concerns such as domestic violence, mental or physical health.

The Dynamics of Joint Legal Custody

It is generally assumed that joint legal custody aligns with the child’s best interests, and both parents have an equal voice in decision-making for the child, fostering the child’s continuing relationship with both parents. However, joint legal custody presents its own set of challenges, particularly the need for ongoing willingness and capacity to collaborate and communicate effectively between parents.

Decision-Making in Joint Custody Arrangements

In joint custody arrangements, the responsibility of decision-making is shared fairly. However, it is possible for one parent to be granted decision-making authority for specific areas within the context of joint custody.

In case of a disagreement, both parents have the right to provide their input and if they are unable to come to an agreement, the court may intervene to render a decision based on the best interests of the child.

Physical Placement: Understanding Where Your Child Lives

Physical placement denotes the distinct time intervals when the child stays with each parent, also known as periods of physical placement. During these periods, the parent holds the right and responsibility to make day-to-day decisions regarding the child’s care. The aim of a placement order is to establish the child’s living arrangements and ensure that time is divided between parents as per the court’s decision.

Crafting a Placement Schedule That Works

A successful placement schedule is crafted by assessing the child’s needs, parents’ availability, and other factors to create a balanced and effective schedule. Physical placement schedules can vary, such as the 2-2-5 schedule, where each parent has the children for a set number of weekdays and weekends in rotation. This schedule allows both parents to have consistent time with their children.

Impact of Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being on Placement Decisions

While making decisions, the court takes into account the following factors regarding child custody and placement:

  • The child’s physical health and emotional well-being
  • The well-being and safety of the child
  • The need for a stable home environment
  • The maintenance of regular and meaningful contact with both parents to support the child’s continuing relationship with them

These factors play a significant role in placement decisions.

The Role of Guardian ad Litem in Custody Cases

During Wisconsin child custody proceedings, the court assigns a Guardian ad Litem to champion the child’s best interests. A Guardian ad Litem is appointed when parents are unable to reach an agreement on custody or placement, or when the court determines it as necessary to safeguard the child’s interests.

When Is a Guardian ad Litem Appointed?

A Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the court when parents fail to agree on custody and placement. The Guardian ad Litem serves as an advocate for the child’s best interests in:

  • Paternity
  • Legal custody
  • Physical placement
  • Support matters

How Guardian ad Litem Influences Custody Outcomes

The recommendations and input provided by the Guardian ad Litem can have a substantial influence on the court’s custody and placement decisions. However, it is permissible for a parent to contest the recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem.

Modification and Enforcement of Custody Orders

A substantial body of evidence validating the need for adjustment is required to modify a custody order due to the current conditions posing physical or emotional harm to the child.

Seeking Modifications: When and How

When substantial changes in circumstances occur, it is possible to seek alterations to custody orders. A ‘substantial’ change in circumstances is defined as a significant change that has occurred since the entry of the last order affecting legal custody or substantially affecting the custody arrangement.

Consequences of Violating Custody and Placement Orders

Penalties such as make-up time, attorney fees, and criminal charges can result from violating custody and placement orders.

Relocation Considerations in Custody Agreements

Certain legal procedures must be followed when relocating a child. If one intends to move their child to a location in Wisconsin that is over 100 miles away from the other parent, they are required to submit a motion to the court to seek approval.

Steps to Take Before Relocating with a Child

Parents wishing to relocate with a child are required to either file a motion with the court or deliver written notice, depending on the distance of the move.

How Relocation Requests Are Evaluated by Courts

Relocation requests are evaluated by courts considering the child’s best interests, considering factors such as the reason for the move and the potential impact on the child’s relationship with the other parent.

Financial Support and Child Custody

In Wisconsin, specific guidelines accounting for the parents’ income and the number of children are used to determine child support, including situations where parents owe child support.

Child Support Obligations and Physical Placement

Child support calculation varies based on the following factors:

  • Income of the parents
  • Number of children
  • Whether the parents operate on a shared placement schedule
  • Whether one parent has sole physical placement with the child spending less than 92 overnights per year with the other parent
  • The amount of child support payments required, which are determined by the child’s basic support costs and the obligation to pay child support

Can You Withhold Visitation Due to Unpaid Child Support?

Child support and visitation rights are two distinct legal matters. Therefore, visitation rights cannot be withheld due to unpaid child support.

Protecting Children from Harm: Supervised Visitation and Restrictions

If the court worries about the child’s safety or welfare during visits, supervised visitation could be enforced.

Criteria for Mandating Supervised Visitation

In the most serious cases, supervised visitation is typically mandated, such as when a child is being reunited with a parent with a history of abuse or when the state has removed a child from the custody of one or both parents due to abuse.

Implementing Restrictions to Safeguard the Child

To safeguard the minor child, the court is empowered to enforce restrictions for minor children, such as limiting contact with certain individuals or prohibiting substance use during visitation.

Addressing Complex Issues in Custody: Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

Child custody determinations, which are guided by child custody laws, are deeply affected by substance abuse, and courts may impose custody conditions on parents who misuse alcohol or drugs.

Substance Abuse Considerations in Custody and Placement

Substance abuse considerations in custody and placement cases can include treatment requirements, supervised visitation, or restrictions on decision-making authority.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody and Visitation Rights

Custody and visitation rights can be impacted by domestic violence, with courts considering the safety and well-being of the child when making decisions.


This comprehensive guide has provided an in-depth look at Wisconsin’s child custody laws, ranging from the definition of legal custody to considerations regarding substance abuse and domestic violence. The goal was to provide a clear understanding of these complex legal matters, ultimately enabling parents to make informed decisions that uphold the best interests of their children.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Wisconsin child custody laws?

In Wisconsin, the state assumes that both parents will share custody of the child, and sole custody is only granted if it is in the best interest of the child.

Is Wisconsin a 50 50 state for child custody?

No, Wisconsin is not a 50/50 state for child custody. Both parents are assumed to have custody and placement, but this can be altered if it is proven not to be in the best interest of the child.

What is the criteria for an unfit parent in Wisconsin?

An unfit parent in Wisconsin is defined as one who has been neglectful and/or abusive, failing to properly care for a child, as this is generally in the best interest of the child.

What rights do fathers have in Wisconsin?

Fathers in Wisconsin have the same parental rights as mothers once paternity is established, and custody and placement decisions are made based on the best interest of the child, often benefiting from a close relationship with both parents.

What considerations are taken into account when granting sole legal custody?

When granting sole legal custody, the court considers the child's wishes, parents' ability to make decisions, and specific concerns like domestic violence or mental and physical health. These factors help determine the best interests of the child.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

FREE Family Law & DivorceE-Book

Get my FREE E-Book

Similar Articles

Learn about Law