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Legal Statutes: Wisconsin

UPDATED October 26, 2012

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Subchapter V. Child Custody, Placement, and Visitation

back to top767.41. Custody and physical placement

(1) General provisions. (a) Subject to ch. 822, the question of a child's custody may be determined as an incident of any action affecting the family or in an independent action for custody. The effect of any determination of a child's custody is not binding personally against any parent or guardian unless the parent or guardian has been made personally subject to the jurisdiction of the court in the action as provided under ch. 801 or has been notified under s. 822.08, as provided in s. 822.06. Nothing in this chapter may be construed to foreclose a person other than a parent who has physical custody of a child from proceeding under ch. 822.

(b) In rendering a judgment of annulment, divorce, legal separation, or paternity, or in rendering a judgment in an action under s. 767.001(1)(e), 767.501, or 767.805(3), the court shall make such provisions as it deems just and reasonable concerning the legal custody and physical placement of any minor child of the parties, as provided in this section.

(1m) Parenting plan. Unless the court orders otherwise, in an action for annulment, divorce, or legal separation, an action to determine paternity, or an action under s. 767.001(1)(e), 767.501, or 767.805(3), in which legal custody or physical placement is contested, a party seeking sole or joint legal custody or periods of physical placement shall file a parenting plan with the court if the court waives the requirement to attend mediation under s. 767.405(8)(b) or if the parties attend mediation and the mediator notifies the court under s. 767.405(12)(b) that the parties have not reached an agreement. Unless the court orders otherwise, the parenting plan shall be filed within 60 days after the court waives the mediation requirement or the mediator notifies the court that no agreement has been reached. Except for cause shown, a party required to file a parenting plan under this subsection who does not timely file a parenting plan waives the right to object to the other party's parenting plan. A parenting plan shall provide information about the following questions:

(a) What legal custody or physical placement the parent is seeking.

(b) Where the parent lives currently and where the parent intends to live during the next 2 years. If there is evidence that the other parent engaged in interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), with respect to the parent providing the parenting plan, the parent providing the parenting plan is not required to disclose the specific address but only a general description of where he or she currently lives and intends to live during the next 2 years.

(c) Where the parent works and the hours of employment. If there is evidence that the other parent engaged in interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), with respect to the parent providing the parenting plan, the parent providing the parenting plan is not required to disclose the specific address but only a general description of where he or she works.

(d) Who will provide any necessary child care when the parent cannot and who will pay for the child care.

(e) Where the child will go to school.

(f) What doctor or health care facility will provide medical care for the child.

(g) How the child's medical expenses will be paid.

(h) What the child's religious commitment will be, if any.

(i) Who will make decisions about the child's education, medical care, choice of child care providers and extracurricular activities.

(j) How the holidays will be divided.

(k) What the child's summer schedule will be.

(L) Whether and how the child will be able to contact the other parent when the child has physical placement with the parent providing the parenting plan, and what electronic communication, if any, the parent is seeking.

(Lm) Whether equipment for providing electronic communication is reasonably available to both parents.

(m) How the parent proposes to resolve disagreements related to matters over which the court orders joint decision making.

(n) What child support, family support, maintenance or other income transfer there will be.

(o) If there is evidence that either party engaged in interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), with respect to the other party, how the child will be transferred between the parties for the exercise of physical placement to ensure the safety of the child and the parties.

(2) Custody to party; joint or sole. (a) Subject to pars. (am) to (e), based on the best interest of the child and after considering the factors under sub. (5)(am), subject to sub. (5)(bm), the court may give joint legal custody or sole legal custody of a minor child.

(am) Except as provided in par. (d), the court shall presume that joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child.

(b) Except as provided in par. (d) and subject to par. (e), the court may give sole legal custody only if it finds that doing so is in the child's best interest and that either of the following applies:

1. Both parties agree to sole legal custody with the same party.

2. The parties do not agree to sole legal custody with the same party, but at least one party requests sole legal custody and the court specifically finds any of the following:

a. One party is not capable of performing parental duties and responsibilities or does not wish to have an active role in raising the child.

b. One or more conditions exist at that time that would substantially interfere with the exercise of joint legal custody.

c. The parties will not be able to cooperate in the future decision making required under an award of joint legal custody. In making this finding the court shall consider, along with any other pertinent items, any reasons offered by a party objecting to joint legal custody. Evidence that either party engaged in abuse, as defined in s. 813.122(1)(a), of the child, as defined in s. 48.02(2), or evidence of interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), creates a rebuttable presumption that the parties will not be able to cooperate in the future decision making required.

(c) Except as provided in par. (d), the court may not give sole legal custody to a parent who refuses to cooperate with the other parent if the court finds that the refusal to cooperate is unreasonable.

(d)1. Except as provided in subd. 4., if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a party has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), pars. (am), (b), and (c) do not apply and there is a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and contrary to the best interest of the child to award joint or sole legal custody to that party. The presumption under this subdivision may be rebutted only by a preponderance of evidence of all of the following:

a. The party who committed the battery or abuse has successfully completed treatment for batterers provided through a certified treatment program or by a certified treatment provider and is not abusing alcohol or any other drug.

b. It is in the best interest of the child for the party who committed the battery or abuse to be awarded joint or sole legal custody based on a consideration of the factors under sub. (5)(am).

2. If the court finds under subd. 1. that both parties engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), the party who engaged in the battery or abuse for purposes of the presumption under subd. 1. is the party that the court determines was the primary physical aggressor. Except as provided in subd. 3., in determining which party was the primary physical aggressor, the court shall consider all of the following:

a. Prior acts of domestic violence between the parties.

b. The relative severity of the injuries, if any, inflicted upon a party by the other party in any of the prior acts of domestic violence under subd. 2. a.

c. The likelihood of future injury to either of the parties resulting from acts of domestic violence.

d. Whether either of the parties acted in self-defense in any of the prior acts of domestic violence under subd. 2. a.

e. Whether there is or has been a pattern of coercive and abusive behavior between the parties.

f. Any other factor that the court considers relevant to the determination under this subdivision.

3. If the court must determine under subd. 2. which party was the primary physical aggressor and one, but not both, of the parties has been convicted of a crime that was an act of domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), with respect to the other party, the court shall find the party who was convicted of the crime to be the primary physical aggressor.

4. The presumption under subd. 1. does not apply if the court finds that both parties engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery or domestic abuse but the court determines that neither party was the primary physical aggressor.

(e)1. In this paragraph, “service member” means a member of the national guard or of a reserve unit of the U.S. armed forces.

2. If a party is a service member, the court may not consider as a factor in determining the legal custody of a child whether the service member has been or may be called to active duty in the U.S. armed forces and consequently is, or in the future will be or may be, absent from the service member's home.

(3) Custody to agency or relative. (a) If the interest of any child demands it, and if the court finds that neither parent is able to care for the child adequately or that neither parent is fit and proper to have the care and custody of the child, the court may declare the child to be in need of protection or services and transfer legal custody of the child to a relative of the child, as defined in s. 48.02(15), to a county department, as defined under s. 48.02(2g), to a licensed child welfare agency, or, in a county having a population of 500,000 or more, the department of children and families. If the court transfers legal custody of a child under this subsection, in its order the court shall notify the parents of any applicable grounds for termination of parental rights under s. 48.415. If the court transfers legal custody under this section to an agency, the court shall also refer the matter to the court intake worker, as defined in s. 48.02(3), who shall conduct an inquiry under s. 48.24 to determine whether a petition should be filed under s. 48.13.

(am) If the court transfers legal custody of a child under this subsection, the order transferring custody shall include a finding that placement of the child in his or her home would be contrary to the welfare of the child and a finding that reasonable efforts have been made to prevent the removal of the child from the home, while assuring that the health and safety of the child are the paramount concerns, unless any of the circumstances specified in s. 48.355(2d)(b)1. to 5. applies. If the legal custodian appointed under par. (a) is a county department, the court shall order the child into the placement and care responsibility of the county department as required under 42 USC 672(a)(2) and shall assign the county department primary responsibility for providing services to the child. The court shall make the findings specified in this paragraph on a case-by-case basis based on circumstances specific to the child and shall document or reference the specific information on which those findings are based in the court order. A court order that merely references this paragraph without documenting or referencing that specific information in the court order or an amended court order that retroactively corrects an earlier court order that does not comply with this paragraph is not sufficient to comply with this paragraph.

(b) If the legal custodian appointed under par. (a) is an agency, the agency shall report to the court on the status of the child at least once each year until the child reaches 18 years of age, is returned to the custody of a parent or is placed under the guardianship of an agency. The agency shall file an annual report no less than 30 days before the anniversary of the date of the order. An agency may file an additional report at any time if it determines that more frequent reporting is appropriate. A report shall summarize the child's permanency plan and the recommendations of the review panel under s. 48.38(5), if any.

(c) The court shall hold a hearing to review the permanency plan within 30 days after receiving a report under par. (b). At least 10 days before the date of the hearing, the court shall provide notice of the time, place, and purpose of the hearing to the agency that prepared the report; the child; the child's parents, guardian, and legal custodian; and the child's foster parent, the operator of the facility in which the child is living, or the relative with whom the child is living.

(d) Following the hearing, the court shall make all of the determinations specified under s. 48.38(5)(c) and, if it determines that an alternative placement is in the child's best interest, may amend the order to transfer legal custody of the child to another relative, other than a parent, or to another agency specified under par. (a).

(e) The charges for care furnished to a child whose custody is transferred under this subsection shall be pursuant to the procedure under s. 48.36(1) or 938.36(1) except as provided in s. 767.57(3).

(4) Allocation of physical placement. (a)1. Except as provided under par. (b), if the court orders sole or joint legal custody under sub. (2), the court shall allocate periods of physical placement between the parties in accordance with this subsection.

2. In determining the allocation of periods of physical placement, the court shall consider each case on the basis of the factors in sub. (5)(am), subject to sub. (5)(bm). The court shall set a placement schedule that allows the child to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent and that maximizes the amount of time the child may spend with each parent, taking into account geographic separation and accommodations for different households.

(b) A child is entitled to periods of physical placement with both parents unless, after a hearing, the court finds that physical placement with a parent would endanger the child's physical, mental or emotional health.

(c) No court may deny periods of physical placement for failure to meet, or grant periods of physical placement for meeting, any financial obligation to the child or, if the parties were married, to the former spouse.

(cm) If a court denies periods of physical placement under this section, the court shall give the parent that was denied periods of physical placement the warning provided under s. 48.356.

(d) If the court grants periods of physical placement to more than one parent, it shall order a parent with legal custody and physical placement rights to provide the notice required under s. 767.481(1).

(e) If the court grants periods of physical placement to more than one parent, the court may grant to either or both parents a reasonable amount of electronic communication at reasonable hours during the other parent's periods of physical placement with the child. Electronic communication with the child may be used only to supplement a parent's periods of physical placement with the child. Electronic communication may not be used as a replacement or as a substitute for a parent's periods of physical placement with the child. Granting a parent electronic communication with the child during the other parent's periods of physical placement shall be based on whether it is in the child's best interest and whether equipment for providing electronic communication is reasonably available to both parents. If the court grants electronic communication to a parent whose physical placement with the child is supervised, the court shall also require that the parent's electronic communication with the child be supervised.

(5) Factors in custody and physical placement determinations. (am) Subject to pars. (bm) and (c), in determining legal custody and periods of physical placement, the court shall consider all facts relevant to the best interest of the child. The court may not prefer one parent or potential custodian over the other on the basis of the sex or race of the parent or potential custodian. Subject to pars. (bm) and (c), the court shall consider the following factors in making its determination:

1. The wishes of the child's parent or parents, as shown by any stipulation between the parties, any proposed parenting plan or any legal custody or physical placement proposal submitted to the court at trial.

2. The wishes of the child, which may be communicated by the child or through the child's guardian ad litem or other appropriate professional.

3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interest.

4. The amount and quality of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past, any necessary changes to the parents' custodial roles and any reasonable life-style changes that a parent proposes to make to be able to spend time with the child in the future.

5. The child's adjustment to the home, school, religion and community.

6. The age of the child and the child's developmental and educational needs at different ages.

7. Whether the mental or physical health of a party, minor child, or other person living in a proposed custodial household negatively affects the child's intellectual, physical, or emotional well-being.

8. The need for regularly occurring and meaningful periods of physical placement to provide predictability and stability for the child.

9. The availability of public or private child care services.

10. The cooperation and communication between the parties and whether either party unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other party.

11. 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.

12. Whether there is evidence that a party engaged in abuse, as defined in s. 813.122(1)(a), of the child, as defined in s. 48.02(2).

12m. Whether any of the following has a criminal record and whether there is evidence that any of the following has engaged in abuse, as defined in s. 813.122(1)(a), of the child or any other child or neglected the child or any other child:

a. A person with whom a parent of the child has a dating relationship, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(ag).

b. A person who resides, has resided, or will reside regularly or intermittently in a proposed custodial household.

13. Whether there is evidence of interspousal battery as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m) or domestic abuse as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am).

14. Whether either party has or had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse.

15. The reports of appropriate professionals if admitted into evidence.

16. Such other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant.

(bm) If the court finds under sub. (2)(d) that a parent has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), the safety and well-being of the child and the safety of the parent who was the victim of the battery or abuse shall be the paramount concerns in determining legal custody and periods of physical placement.

(c) If a parent is a service member, as defined in sub. (2)(e)1., the court may not consider as a factor in determining the legal custody of a child whether the service member has been or may be called to active duty in the U.S. armed forces and consequently is, or in the future will be or may be, absent from the service member's home.

(6) Final order. (a) If legal custody or physical placement is contested, the court shall state in writing why its findings relating to legal custody or physical placement are in the best interest of the child.

(am) In making an order of joint legal custody, upon the request of one parent the court shall specify major decisions in addition to those specified under s. 767.001(2m).

(b) Notwithstanding s. 767.001(1s), in making an order of joint legal custody, the court may give one party sole power to make specified decisions, while both parties retain equal rights and responsibilities for other decisions.

(c) In making an order of joint legal custody and periods of physical placement, the court may specify one parent as the primary caretaker of the child and one home as the primary home of the child, for the purpose of determining eligibility for aid under s. 49.19 or benefits under ss. 49.141 to 49.161 or for any other purpose the court considers appropriate.

(d) No party awarded joint legal custody may take any action inconsistent with any applicable physical placement order, unless the court expressly authorizes that action.

(e) In an order of physical placement, the court shall specify the right of each party to the physical control of the child in sufficient detail to enable a party deprived of that control to implement any law providing relief for interference with custody or parental rights.

(f) If the court finds under sub. (2)(d) that a party has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), the court shall state in writing whether the presumption against awarding joint or sole legal custody to that party is rebutted and, if so, what evidence rebutted the presumption, and why its findings relating to legal custody and physical placement are in the best interest of the child.

(g) If the court finds under sub. (2)(d) that a party has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery, as described under s. 940.19 or 940.20(1m), or domestic abuse, as defined in s. 813.12(1)(am), and the court awards periods of physical placement to both parties, the court shall provide for the safety and well-being of the child and for the safety of the party who was the victim of the battery or abuse. For that purpose the court, giving consideration to the availability of services or programs and to the ability of the party who committed the battery or abuse to pay for those services or programs, shall impose one or more of the following, as appropriate:

1. Requiring the exchange of the child to occur in a protected setting or in the presence of an appropriate 3rd party who agrees by affidavit or other supporting evidence to assume the responsibility assigned by the court and to be accountable to the court for his or her actions with respect to the responsibility.

2. Requiring the child's periods of physical placement with the party who committed the battery or abuse to be supervised by an appropriate 3rd party who agrees by affidavit or other supporting evidence to assume the responsibility assigned by the court and to be accountable to the court for his or her actions with respect to the responsibility.

3. Requiring the party who committed the battery or abuse to pay the costs of supervised physical placement.

4. Requiring the party who committed the battery or abuse to attend and complete, to the satisfaction of the court, treatment for batterers provided through a certified treatment program or by a certified treatment provider as a condition of exercising his or her periods of physical placement.

5. If the party who committed the battery or abuse has a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse, prohibiting that party from being under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance when the parties exchange the child for periods of physical placement and from possessing or consuming alcohol or any controlled substance during his or her periods of physical placement.

6. Prohibiting the party who committed the battery or abuse from having overnight physical placement with the child.

7. Requiring the party who committed the battery or abuse to post a bond for the return and safety of the child.

8. Imposing any condition not specified in subds. 1. to 7. that the court determines is necessary for the safety and well-being of the child or the safety of the party who was the victim of the battery or abuse.

(7) Access to records. (a) Except under par. (b) or unless otherwise ordered by the court, access to a child's medical, dental and school records is available to a parent regardless of whether the parent has legal custody of the child.

(b) A parent who has been denied periods of physical placement with a child under this section is subject to s. 118.125(2)(m) with respect to that child's school records, s. 51.30(5)(bm) with respect to the child's court or treatment records, s. 55.23 with respect to the child's records relating to protective services, and s. 146.835 with respect to the child's patient health care records.

(7m) Medical and medical history information. (a) In making an order of legal custody, the court shall order a parent who is not granted legal custody of a child to provide to the court medical and medical history information that is known to the parent. The court shall send the information to the physician or other health care provider with primary responsibility for the treatment and care of the child, as designated by the parent who is granted legal custody of the child, and advise the physician or other health care provider of the identity of the child to whom the information relates. The information provided shall include all of the following:

1. The known medical history of the parent providing the information, including specific information about stillbirths or congenital anomalies in the parent's family, and the medical histories, if known, of the parents and siblings of the parent and any sibling of the child who is a child of the parent, except that medical history information need not be provided for a sibling of the child if the parent or other person who is granted legal custody of the child also has legal custody, including joint legal custody, of that sibling.

2. A report of any medical examination that the parent providing the information had within one year before the date of the order.

(am) The physician or other health care provider designated under par. (a) shall keep the information separate from other records kept by the physician or other health care provider. The information shall be assigned an identification number and maintained under the name of the parent who provided the information to the court. The patient health care records of the child that are kept by the physician or other health care provider shall include a reference to that name and identification number. If the child's patient health care records are transferred to another physician or other health care provider or another health care facility, the records containing the information provided under par. (a) shall be transferred along with the child's patient health care records. Notwithstanding s. 146.819, the information provided under par. (a) need not be maintained by a physician or other health care provider after the child reaches age 18.

(b) Notwithstanding ss. 146.81 to 146.835, the information shall be kept confidential, except only as follows:

1. The physician or other health care provider with custody of the information, or any other record custodian at the request of the physician or other health care provider, shall have access to the information if, in the professional judgment of the physician or other health care provider, the information may be relevant to the child's medical condition.

2. The physician or other health care provider may release only that portion of the information, and only to a person, that the physician or other health care provider determines is relevant to the child's medical condition.

(8) Notice in judgment. A judgment which determines the legal custody or physical placement rights of any person to a minor child shall include notification of the contents of s. 948.31.
L.1977, c. 105, §§ 11, 34 to 38, eff. Feb. 1, 1978.

L.1977, c. 418, §§ 747m, 747o, eff. May 19, 1978.

St.1977, §§ 247.05(2), 247.24.

L.1979, c. 32, §§ 50, 92(4), eff. July 20, 1979.

L.1979, c. 196, §§ 24 to 27, eff. Aug. 1, 1980.

L.1979, c. 352, § 39, eff. July 1, 1981.

L.1981, c. 391, § 185, eff. June 17, 1982.

1985 Act 70, §§ 8, 9, eff. Nov. 23, 1985.

1985 Act 176, § 600, eff. April 10, 1986.

1987 Act 332, § 64(1), eff. July 1, 1989.

1987 Act 355, §§ 25 to 34, eff. May 3, 1988.

1987 Act 364, § 2, eff. May 3, 1988.

1987 Act 383, § 23m, eff. May 3, 1988.

1987 Act 403, § 207, eff. July 1, 1989.

1989 Act 56, § 259, eff. Nov. 16, 1989.

1989 Act 359, § 400, eff. June 2, 1990.

1991 Act 32, § 140, eff. July 27, 1991.

1993 Act 213, § 163, eff. April 21, 1994.

1993 Act 446, § 164, eff. May 12, 1994.

1993 Act 481, § 79, eff. June 11, 1994.

1995 Act 77, § 588, eff. July 1, 1996.

1995 Act 100, § 4, eff. Dec. 16, 1995.

1995 Act 275, §§ 127, 128, eff. July 1, 1996.

1995 Act 289, § 266, eff. July 1, 1996.

1995 Act 343, §§ 3, 4, eff. June 4, 1996.

1995 Act 375, § 1, eff. June 14, 1996.

1997 Act 35, § 474, eff. Dec. 31, 1997.

1997 Act 191, §§ 390 to 392, eff. May 1, 1998.

1999 Act 9, §§ 3054cL to 3054dd, eff. May 1, 2000.

2001 Act 109, §§ 514h to 514s, eff. July 30, 2002.

2003 Act 130, §§ 16 to 41, eff. March 13, 2004.

St.2003, §§ 767.05(2), 767.24(title), (1) to (8).

2005 Act 101, § 1, eff. Jan. 20, 2006.

2005 Act 130, § 5, eff. March 25, 2006.

2005 Act 174, §§ 3 to 5, eff. April 6, 2006.

2005 Act 264, § 178, eff. Nov. 1, 2006.

2005 Act 443, §§ 29, 94 to 97, eff. Jan. 1, 2007.

2005 Act 471, §§ 1 to 5, eff. June 13, 2006.

2007 Act 20, §§ 3726, 3728, eff. Oct. 27, 2007.

2007 Act 20, § 3727, eff. July 1, 2008.

2007 Act 96, §§ 141, 142, eff. March 28, 2008.

2007 Act 97, § 201, eff. March 28, 2008.

2007 Act 187, § 5, eff. April 11, 2008.

2009 Act 28, § 3209.

2009 Act 79, § 102, eff. Jan. 1, 2010.

2009 Act 79, § 103, eff. Jan. 1, 2011.