It is always a difficult time when two people decide to end their relationship, and this is true for all types of coupling including dating, monogamous relationships, and even marriages. Even though this process is hard regardless of the type of relationship, couples who are divorcing often have a longer process to go through, taking the time to split assets and divide up marital belongings. Additionally, should the divorcing couple have children, they also need to manage the Wisconsin child custody of those children once they decide to separate. This can often lead to heated legal battles in the court room.
Best Interests of the Child Standard in Wisconsin
The state of Wisconsin uses the “best interests of the child” standard when trying a Wisconsin child custody case. This standard helps guide the decisions the court makes about custody of the child involved as well as any visitation schedules needing to be made. The judge presiding over the case looks at the circumstances of both the parents and the child and also evaluates a number of different factors in order to determine the best way to award custody.
Parenting Plans in Wisconsin
Before judges make a final order for custody, they encourage parents to attend mediation in an attempt to create their own parenting plan and come to an agreement about a custody schedule that benefits their child. When the parents are working on this plan, they must include many details, such as, but not limited to:
- Proposed custody schedule
- Proposed visitation schedule
- Where both parents live/plan to live for the next two years
- Where both parents work and their work schedules
- Where the child will attend school
- Who will provide child care when both parents are unavailable
- What medical professional(s) will provide medical care for the child
In addition to this basic information, the judge also wants to see a parenting plan that includes:
- How the parents plan to manage school vacations
- How the parents plan to manage holidays
- Who will be responsible for paying the cost of medical care, education, extracurricular activities, etc.
- Who will be responsible for making decisions about the child’s health, education, religious upbringing, etc.
- How the child will keep in contact with both parents regardless of where he or she is residing
- How the parents plan to resolve disputes regarding the custody order or visitation schedule
Should the parents agree on one parenting plan, this is submitted to the court for approval. However, should the parents be unable to come to an agreement, even through mediation, they have the option to each submit their own parenting plan for the court to review. The judge makes considerations for both parenting plans and also takes a number of other factors into consideration before making a final decision. Some factors the judge has to consider, under the best interests of the child standard, include but are not limited to:
- What is best for the child’s mental health
- What is best for the child’s emotional health
- What is best for the child’s physical health
- Both parents’ wishes
- The child’s wishes
- The child’s relationship with both parents
- What adjustments the child has to make regarding changes to school, doctors, religious background, community, etc.
- Emotional and/or physical needs of the child
- Likelihood the parents can cooperate to benefit their child
- Likelihood the parents can communicate to benefit their child
Court Order Child Custody Agreements in Wisconsin
After making all the necessary considerations, the court creates and passes down a child custody order for the parents. The court has the responsibility of creating an order for both physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to who the child primarily lives with, and legal custody is which parent (or both parents) has the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing. In most cases, except if there is a history of abuse or neglect, the court orders joint legal custody.
Physical custody orders vary depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. The judge has the option to award joint physical custody, where the parents would equally share time of the child living with them. Another option is to award sole physical custody, where one parent is the custodial parent with the child living with him or her a majority of the time, and the other parent would be the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent is then awarded a visitation order outlining when he or she has time with the child, such as weekends, holidays or split weeks.
Child Custody Modification in Wisconsin
Once the judge has made a Wisconsin child custody order, no changes can be made to the order without the court’s approval. When changes need to be made – which often happens as the child ages and/or as the parents’ circumstances change – the parents can submit a request for modification to the Wisconsin family law court system. If the parents agree on the changes needing to be made and they are within the child’s best interests, they are likely approved.
However, in the more likely case that parents do not agree on the proposed changes, the process becomes more difficult. In these cases, the parent wishing to make modifications is burdened with proving why the changes are necessary and how they benefit the child. The judge then considers both parents’ arguments as well as a number of other factors before deciding to approve or deny the modification. Generally, judges do not like to grant too many modifications as changes to the child’s schedule could be mentally disruptive.
Custody and Relocation in Wisconsin
The issue of relocation in a Wisconsin child custody agreement is often a difficult one, especially when there is a custodial/noncustodial parent agreement. Since a relocation by one parent can have an impact on the custody order, the parent wishing to relocate likely has to seek approval from the family court system. Should both parents be in agreement on the relocation and the modifications needing to be made to the custody order and the changes are within the child’s best interests, the judge likely approves the parent to move.
When a parent with primary custody wishes to move, it often means the noncustodial parent has a harder time fulfilling the visitation schedule, and this parent often does not agree to the relocation. In these cases, the parent wishing to relocate needs to prove why the move is necessary and how it benefits the child. The judge then reviews all the arguments as well as the impact the move will have on the child before making a decision.