En Español
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Know the Laws: Wisconsin

UPDATED June 22, 2017

View All

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.

The custody process

back to topHow will a judge make a decision about custody?

When making a decision about custody or visitation, the judge will consider all facts relevant to the best interest of the child. These factors include:

  • The wishes of the child’s parent or parents, as shown by any proposed parenting plan or any legal custody or physical placement proposal submitted to the court.
  • The wishes of the child, which may be communicated by the child or through the child’s guardian ad litem or other appropriate professional.
  • The interaction and relationship the child has with his/her parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest.
  • The amount and quality of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past.
  • Any necessary life-style changes that a parent proposes to make to be able to spend time with the child in the future.
  • The child’s adjustment to the home, school, religion and community.
  • The age of the child and the child’s developmental and educational needs at different ages.
  • Whether the mental or physical health of anyone living with one of the parties asking for custody/visitation negatively affects the child’s intellectual, physical, or emotional well-being.
  • The ability of a party to provide predictability and stability for the child.
  • The availability of child care services.
  • The cooperation and communication between the parties and whether either party unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other party.
  • Whether each party can support the other party’s relationship with the child, including encouraging and facilitating frequent and continuing contact with the child, or whether one party is likely to unreasonably interfere with the child’s continuing relationship with the other party.
  • Whether there is evidence that a party engaged in abuse or child abuse.
  • Whether any of the following people has a criminal record and whether there is evidence that any of the following has engaged in child abuse or neglect, of the child or any other child:
    • A person with whom a parent of the child has a dating relationship
    • A person who lives, has lived or will live with the party
  • Whether there is evidence of interspousal battery or domestic abuse.
  • Whether either party has or had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse.
  • The reports of appropriate professionals if admitted into evidence or such other factors as the judge decides is relevant.*
* Wis. Stat. § 767.41(5)(am)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topIf the other parent and I don't agree on custody or physical placement, what happens?

In the beginning of a custody case, both you and the other parent will be asked to suggest a parenting plan that explains how you want custody and physical placement to be divided up. If you and the other parent are unable to reach a custody agreement, the judge will eventually hold a hearing (or trial) and the judge will make the final decision.

To prepare for the hearing, the court will appoint an attorney for your child (called a guardian ad litem) to investigate and represent the best interests of your child.* You and the other parent also have a right to get a lawyer to represent you in the custody hearing. Some counties also have court social workers who do an investigation and recommend who should get custody and what the specific placement schedule should be. The investigation that is done by the social worker and guardian ad litem may take several months to a year. Once the investigation is done, the court schedules a hearing where the parents (with or without lawyers), social worker and guardian ad litem present their evidence, and the court decides the issues of custody, placement and visitation.

* Wis. Stat. § 767.407(1)(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topDo I need a lawyer?

It is highly recommended that you get a lawyer to make sure that your rights are protected. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to find sources of free or low-cost legal help on our WI Finding a Lawyer page.

If you plan to file for custody on your own, you may want to visit The Wisconsin Law Library, a resource that provides links to paperwork you need to fill out and file with the court, and additional information about custody in WI. Even if you plan on representing yourself, you should consider having a lawyer review your papers before you file them.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan I get financial support for myself and my children?

Yes.  As long as paternity is established, you are entitled to receive support for your child.  The judge makes separate decisions when awarding support for you and your children, so it is possible that you may only be able to get support for your children, and not for yourself.

Support for your child: Generally, the judge will determine how much money each parent will pay to support a child.  The judge almost always uses set guidelines in a child support obligation worksheet to determine how much support you will receive.  If you would like to see all of the factors that go into determining support, you can visit Wisconsin Guidelines for Setting Child Support Payment Amounts.

The guidelines the judge uses involve a very complex formula, but basically the court looks at both parents’ incomes, your child’s needs and the custody arrangements.  An order of joint legal custody does not affect the amount of child support ordered.*  To get a rough idea of how much support you may receive, you can visit AllLaw.com's Wisconsin child support calculator.  However, this website only estimates the amount of support you may get. The amount of support you receive depends on how much the judge actually decides to give you.

Note: Violation of physical placement rights by the custodial parent is not a reason for failure to meet child support obligations.**

To read more about child support in Wisconsin, visit the Wisconsin Child Support Program.

Support for yourself: In Wisconsin, spousal support is referred to as maintenance. If you are getting separated or divorced, the court can award you temporary or permanent maintenance. In deciding whether to award you maintenance, a judge will look at many factors. A few of the things a judge will look at are:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties.
  • The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and at the time the action is commenced.
  • The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance.
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other.***
To read more about spousal support and maintenance in Wisconsin, go to Woman's Divorce or the Wisconsin State Law Library.

* Wis. Stat. § 767.511(7)
** Wis. Stat. § 767.511(3)
*** Wis. Stat. § 767.56

Did you find this information helpful?

back to top