Children are perhaps the most at risk for trauma in a divorce, legal separation or custody case.

This is why, in Wisconsin, the child’s best interests are always considered first. The courts in Wisconsin handle custody cases in a conciliatory way, where the first presumption is that it is in the best interest of the child to have equal contact and visitation with both parents.

Joint custody is the initial presumption, and developments during a custody proceeding may or may not push the judge to issue sole custody and visitation to one parent over the other based on various circumstances and factors


Child Custody and Placement


Some of the vital decisions before a Wisconsin family court will involve custody and placement. Custody is the legal right of a parent (or both parents in a joint-custody case) to make major life and legal decisions about their child(ren), including school, religious beliefs and worship attendance, getting a driver’s license or consent to marry as examples.

Placement is defined as the child being physically located at a parent’s home for a certain amount of time. Placement decisions involve days of the week or months of the year in which a child may be physically with a parent, and while in that parent’s home that parent can have rights in various day-to-day decisions regarding the child – such as food, discipline and other items.

Placement could be resolved in mediation instead of in court, but that is only if the two parties seem to be able to work together and negotiate. If one of the parties is not cooperative, then a legal court hearing will be required.


What are Visitation Rights?


As mentioned previously, a court will always try to side with joint custody of children in many circumstances. However, certain factors may arise that may determine that join custody would not be in the best interest of the child(ren). In such cases, a judge may award sole legal custody to one parent, and visitation rights to the other parent (called the “noncustodial” parent).

Visitation rights are generally proffered unless there are circumstances in which the child may be at risk while visiting (such as the parent having alcohol or drug problems, a violent temper, or a history of abuse). The noncustodial parent may appeal to get the rights back if the parent can show rehabilitation.


What are Factors that Determine Custody or Placement?


A family-court judge is required to look at a number of factors in determining custody or physical placement of a child – if the parents didn’t already reach a mutual agreement.

A list of the factors a judge must consider include:

  • What are the parents’ wishes?
  • What are the wishes of the child(ren)?
  • What is/are the age(s) of the child(ren)?
  • How involved are the parents in the child(ren)’s life?
  • What is the personal relationship like between each parent and the child(ren)? Is the child scared of one of the parents, or very loving to both? Do both parents spend quality time with the child?
  • Are the parents cooperative and conciliatory?
  • What is the availability of child care when a parent has to work?
  • Is there a history of spousal, child or other family abuse?
  • Is there a history of abuse with alcohol or drugs?
  • Is there a history of violence or criminal activity?

There are many issues to consider in a custody case, but first and foremost is to consider the best interest of the child. In an emotional situation like the break-up of a family, it sometimes might be best to have family law lawyer to look out for the child’s best interests. John T. Fields& Associates can see your situation through clear, unbiased eyes and help you navigate the custodial process so that a fair solution will maintain your child’s happiness and emotional and mental health. Contact our office today for a free consultation. John T. Fields & Associates serves Madison, Wisconsin and the surrounding area