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Know the Laws: Wisconsin

UPDATED June 22, 2017

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action. To find help, please go to the WI Where to Find Help page.

General info and definitions

back to topWhat is legal custody?

Legal custody is the legal right to make major decisions about your children, such as non-emergency health care and choice of school and religion. Custody is different from physical placement (see below).

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back to topWhat options are there for legal custody?

There are two types of legal custody in Wisconsin:

  • Joint legal custody, when both parents have equal rights to make major decisions about their children.*
  • Sole legal custody, when only one parent has the right to make such decisions.**
In general, the court will assume that joint legal custody between both parents is in the best interest of the child.***

* Wis. Stat. § 767.001(1s)
** Wis. Stat. § 767.001(6)
*** Wis. Stat. § 767.41(2)(am)

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back to topWhat is physical placement?

Physical placement refers to the time that your children are in each parent's care. Most court orders provide a placement schedule of the times the children are to be with each parent. Placement schedules can vary from brief time with one parent and the remainder with the other to the equal amounts of time with both parents.

When physical placement of the child is with you, you have the right to make routine daily decisions about your children's care such as bedtime, study time, diet, extracurricular activities, social activities, and discipline.

Wis. Stat. § 767.001(5)

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back to topWhat is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a document that is written up by each party outlining what kind of custody or physical placement s/he wants. It also includes important details about the child’s life – for example, where s/he will go to school, how s/he will receive medical care, and who will provide child care when needed.*

Usually, in any case involving annulment, divorce, legal separation, paternity, custody, or child support in which legal custody or physical placement is challenged, a party seeking legal custody or physical placement has to file a parenting plan with the court if:

  • the judge waives the requirement to attend mediation, or
  • if the parties attend mediation and do not reach an agreement.**
Unless the judge orders otherwise, the parenting plan has to be filed within 60 days.  If you do not file the parenting plan in time, you waive (give up) the right to object to the other party's parenting plan.**

* Wis. Stat. § 767.41(1m)(a)-(o)
** Wis. Stat. § 767.41(1m)

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back to topWhat is a guardian ad litem?

In an action affecting the family (paternity, legal custody, physical placement, and support cases), a guardian ad litem is an attorney who acts as an advocate for the best interests of a minor child.*

* Wis. Stat. § 767.407, outlines qualifications and duties.

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to WI Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

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