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Wisconsin Family Law Articles

When Sole Custody May be Necessary

Ideally, divorced parents will be able to share their parenting time and decision-making concerning their children cooperatively. While parents being able to work together constructively is a positive goal, there are situations when it is better that one parent has primary placement and authority. When a parent has sole custody and placement, the other will not have the power to determine visitation or make important parenting decisions. Here are some important facts to know about sole custody.

Custody and Placement

Sole custody means that one parent has the exclusive right to make decisions regarding their child about educational issues, medical treatment, and psychological care. Having physical placement refers to when your child resides with you, and you make those day to day life decisions.

Sole Custody and Placement

Wisconsin law favors parenting plans which allow parents frequent and ongoing contact with their children and shared decision-making. Joint custody is actually presumed to be in a child’s best interest in Wisconsin. However, an unfortunate truth is that are some parents who are or have the potential to be a danger to their children. The reasons can range from obvious threats such as a history of spousal battery or child neglect or abuse to issues with drug/alcohol addiction or serious unresolved mental health issues.  When a parent has been violent, the court is going to be extremely cautious when it comes to allowing them to make decisions for or have unsupervised contact with their child, or requiring the non-violent spouse to have to work with them on decision-making.  The result could be a court order which names one parent as primary placement custodian and with the power to make all major decisions.  Depending on the situation, the other parent’s visits may even have to be monitored by an approved third party, or not even be permitted at all.

A parent’s struggle with addiction may also be a basis for sole custody and placement. This is because substance dependence can impair a parent’s judgment and ability to provide safety for their child. While the source of the addiction may be an illegal drug, in many instances the abused substance is alcohol or a prescription drug. A parent’s recent alcohol or drug abuse could be so serious as to limit or preclude their custody or placement.

Another basis for sole custody and placement may be a parent’s mental health. While a parent’s psychological or psychiatric diagnosis is not a reason in and of itself to grant the other parent exclusive authority or physical placement, when the affected parent’s symptoms impact their parenting, sole custody may be appropriate.  For example, a parent may have a mental illness which requires medication management due to their symptoms of extreme and volatile behaviors which could endanger themselves or others. If the parent has a history of non-compliance with their medication regimen and displays ongoing symptoms, sole custody may be warranted.

Cooperative and collaborative parenting and joint custody are usually the best results for families after divorce.  But when children may be exposed to danger by a parent’s conduct, it is critical that their legal and physical placement be arranged in a manner which is in their best interests. Our office helps clients examine custody matters and finds ways to work toward custody agreements which protect children and support their well-being.

We understand and can help you navigate Wisconsin divorce laws. Contact Karyn Youso, Wisconsin’s family law attorney and mediator in practice for over 27 years for a free consultation.