If you have children with your spouse and are considering a split, custody is likely your foremost concern. Wisconsin laws use the terms custody and placement to define a family’s parenting arrangement after divorce. 

Learn how the state determines child custody to ease your mind during this challenging time. 

Custody vs. placement 

The court may order either joint or sole custody, which is the right to make major life decisions on the child’s behalf. Examples include nonemergency health care, religious instruction and education. Wisconsin defaults to joint custody except in cases involving neglect or abuse. 

Placement refers to the amount of time the child spends with each parent. With shared placement, the child spends at least 25% of the time with each parent. With primary placement, the child spends more than 75% of the time with one parent. 

Factors in determining custody 

The state operates under the assumption that the child should spend significant, regular time with both parents. A placement arrangement ideally will maximize the time with each parent depending on their geographic locations and the distance between households. When parents do not agree on a placement arrangement, the court will decide based on the child’s best interest. Factors in the best interest standard include: 

  • Whether each parent can provide necessary care for the child 
  • The child’s existing connections with family and community 
  • Each parent’s wishes for parenting time 
  • The child’s wishes if he or she is old enough to express a mature preference 
  • The parents’ ability to cooperate and co-parent with one another 
  • Each parent’s willingness to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent 

Each parent has the right to make routine daily decisions when the child is in his or her care. Examples include discipline, social activities, extracurricular activities, nutrition, homework and bedtime. 

Your divorce decree will include a parenting plan. This documents the placement schedule for your child and other agreements you and the other parent have made about his or her care.