Can it Affect My Placement Order if I Let My Child Live with My Ex Longer?
In Wisconsin, there are various ways that parents may arrange to share their placement time. Although some placement schedules may be well thought out, life happens, and there can be times when parents will have to change their plans to accommodate each other or their kids. What will happen when a parent makes a change for an extended period of time? Can it affect my placement order if I let my child live with my ex longer?
In Wisconsin, physical placement refers to the time a child spends in the parent’s actual care. Legal custody refers to a parent’s decision-making authority concerning their child.
- Primary placement is when a child lives in one home most of the time. If a child is attending school, they may be with one parent during the school week and alternate weekends with the other parent. Parents may also split their time between the summers and alternate holidays. A parent with primary placement usually has the child at least 75% of the time.
- A shared placement occurs when a child resides with each parent at least 25% of the time. Some families have a "9/5" schedule where every 14 days, one parent has the child for nine days, and the other has them for five days. Another shared placement schedule could be a 4/3 where one parent has the child four overnights per week, and the other has 3.
- An equal placement occurs when parents have placement time for about the same amount of time. This schedule can be arranged in several ways. Some parents have alternating days or weeks. Other parents get assigned days of the week and then rotate the weekends.
Changing Your Placement Schedule
Parents can spend countless hours going back and forth over their placement schedules, trying to anticipate everything that could come up in their child’s future. The problem is that no matter how well thought out a schedule may be, it can’t adapt to your family’s changing needs. As your kids grow older, they may develop interests that require them to be at your ex’s home more often. This may be because the school in the other parent’s neighborhood offers a unique academic or sports program. It could be because they have made friends in your ex’s community or want more time with the other parent. The other parent may move, and your child may prefer being at the new residence for more extended periods. Your ex could be returning from active duty in the military and want more placement time to reconnect with your children after being away. Any of these circumstances may lead a parent to informally alter their placement schedule and allow their children to spend more time with their ex. It's important to know that allowing this kind of change to remain in place could result in modifications.
Physical Placement Modification
Wisconsin law prohibits a court from modifying a placement order for two years after final judgment unless there is a threat to a child's physical or emotional well-being.
After two years, a court can modify placement if it’s in a child’s best interest, and “[t]here has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the last order affecting legal custody or the last order substantially affecting physical placement.”
There is a rebuttable presumption that “[c]ontinuing the child's physical placement with the parent with whom the child resides for the greater period of time is in the best interest of the child.”
Equal Placement Modification
Modification of substantially equal periods of physical placement may be allowed if “circumstances make it impractical for the parties to continue to have substantially equal physical placement,” and it is in the best interest of the child.
Failure to Exercise Physical Placement
The law also provides that a court can modify a physical placement order at any time “with respect to periods of physical placement if it finds that a parent has repeatedly and unreasonably failed to exercise periods of physical placement awarded under an order of physical placement that allocates specific times for the exercise of periods of physical placement.” This is sometimes called the “use it or lose it” statute. In practical terms, if you have allowed your child to spend your placement time with the other parent for a significant amount of time, the fact that you have not been exercising physical placement could be a basis for the other parent to modify the schedule in their favor.
A court can also modify a placement order "which does not substantially alter the amount of time a parent may spend with his or her child if the court finds that the modification is in the best interest of the child." In other words, if your child is spending some additional time with the other parent, but it's not so much time as to constitute a significant change to your time together, the court may also decide to modify your schedule.
If you have allowed your child to spend some of your placement time with your ex, it’s important that you learn more about the law and how it may apply to your situation. Attorney and mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law has extensive experience helping clients understand their options during Wisconsin physical placement modification cases and can help.