Why Would a Court Grant Sole Custody and Primary Placement?
When parents divorce or are no longer together, they can enter into agreements regarding how they will share decision-making and time with their kids, or a court can decide for them. Although Wisconsin law favors parents being equally involved in their children's lives, there can be situations in which one parent will have less decision-making authority or time with the children than the other parent. Here are some of the reasons why a court might grant sole custody or primary placement to one parent:
Wisconsin Legal Custody
In Wisconsin, the term legal custody refers to a parent's decision-making authority for their child. A parent's custodial rights allow them to make choices about issues such as where their child attends school, non-emergency medical treatment, what religion might be practiced, whether they can get a cell phone, and other issues that are necessary for the child’s ongoing daily care.
Under the law in Wisconsin, it is presumed that joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child, meaning both parents are granted equal decision-making authority unless there is compelling evidence to suggest that would not be in the best interest of the child. Specifically, if a court knows a parent may be a risk to a child's health or safety, this may be a reason to deny that parent custodial rights. For instance, the court is going to take evidence of domestic abuse or interspousal battery extremely seriously. If there is proof that a parent has committed either of these acts, there may be a rebuttable presumption that it’s detrimental to the child and contrary to his or her best interest to award joint or sole legal custody to the abusive parent. The court may also decide that a parent should have sole custody if the other parent is incarcerated, or has a substance abuse problem, or perhaps is not around enough to share in the decision-making process.
Joint custody presumes both parents can communicate and cooperate well enough to make those decisions. If there’s evidence to the contrary, the court may simply award sole custody to one parent to avoid continuation of the historically high conflict relationship.
Physical placement in Wisconsin refers to the time period a parent has their child with them under their care. Under ordinary circumstances, Wisconsin law requires the court to set a shared placement schedule that allows children “to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent and that maximizes the amount of time the child[ren] may spend with each parent, taking into account geographic separation and accommodations for different households.” However, just as with legal custody, there can be exceptions that warrant allowing one parent to have a child with them for the majority of the time. This is called primary placement.
Types of Placement
Generally, primary placement is when the child lives with one parent most of the time, and shared placement refers to when a child resides with each parent at least 25% of the time. There can also be equal placement, wherein parents share time with their children in a schedule that is closer to 50/50.
In Wisconsin, the law provides that a child is entitled to physical placement with both parents unless, after a hearing, the court finds that placement with a parent would endanger his or her physical, mental, or emotional health. If a finding such as this is made regarding a parent, the other parent will most likely be the child's primary placement, and there will probably be restrictions on what, if any, contact, the endangering parent may have with the child in the future.
Primary placement is not always the product of a parent being a danger to their child. The other parent may be awarded primary placement when, after weighing numerous factors, the court determines that this type of arrangement is in the best interest of the child. For instance, this decision could be about maintaining stability if a parent’s work schedule is variable or inconsistent with a child’s school schedule; primary placement could be awarded to maintain a child’s longstanding relationships with his or her community and peers; sometimes the child is very young and their developmental stage warrants fewer placement transitions; sometimes the parents’ ability to cooperate with one another is still a work in progress, so having one parent be the “home base” is better for the child and means less need for the parents to interact with transitions and scheduling. Parents may also believe this type of placement is the least disruptive to their child’s life and voluntarily decide to enter into an agreement as to this arrangement.
Contact a Wisconsin Family Law Attorney
Generally, Wisconsin courts prefer that parents share joint legal custody and have frequent and ongoing contact with their children. However, not every situation allows for this result and it is critical that you discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney.
If you believe your ex should have limited custodial or placement rights, it’s important to get advice as soon as possible. Karyn Youso is an experienced Wisconsin family law attorney who can help you examine the issues involving your child custody and placement case. At First Look Family Law we understand and can help. Call today to set your appointment to talk about your situation.