During divorce, parents have to work through multiple issues as they try to figure out the best and most reasonable ways to care for their children after divorce. Making the shift from being a family sharing a home, to living apart, requires patience and time. Ideally, after legal custody and physical placement are decided, parents will cooperatively make decisions without ever needing to involve the court again. However, there can be changes down the road that require that these terms be modified. If you are in this situation, you will need to know: How do I change my child custody and placement order?
Wisconsin Child Custody and Placement
Depending on where you live, the word custody can have different definitions under the law. In a Wisconsin case, the term legal custody is about the parent’s decision-making authority, while physical placement refers to who has the child under his or her actual care. Wisconsin law generally favors joint custody and maximizing placement time with each parent, unless there is evidence that a parent presents a danger to his or her child.
Changing Wisconsin Parenting Plans
When a parenting plan is created, it will have numerous provisions that spell out in detail how a child’s parents will make decisions on critical issues and share their time. Before the plan is finalized, the court will examine multiple factors and consider evidence about the parents, the child, and what is in his or her best interests. Typically, courts prefer to see parents work out their issues without returning to alter legal custody or physical placement. However, there can be times when it will be necessary for a party to seek modification through the court.
Modification in Less Than 2 Years
- Once the final order is in place, parents cannot make substantial modifications to legal custody or physical placement for two years unless the requesting parent can show that the change is necessary because the “current custodial conditions are physically or emotionally harmful” to the child’s best interests.
- If for instance, parents have joint custody and a placement schedule with shared overnight visits, and a parent is arrested for a DUI with their children in the car, the other parent would have grounds to return to court before two years to discuss modification.
Modification After 2 Years
- After two years have passed, Wisconsin law provides that a parent may return to court and attempt to show cause why a custody or placement order should be modified.
- The court may change a legal custody order in a way that would substantially alter the time a parent may spend with his or her child if it finds:
- a. The modification is in the best interest of the child.
- b. There has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the last order affecting legal custody or the previous order substantially affecting physical placement.
However, there is a rebuttable presumption that continuing the current custody order and physical placement with the parent with whom the child lives more of the time is in the child’s best interests.
The change in circumstances can be various conditions such as a child or parent experiencing a serious physical or mental health issue or a parent not exercising physical placement for an extensive period. Modification cannot be requested just because one parent had a change in economic or marital status.
Modifying Equal Placement
When parents have had a substantially equal physical placement, the parties can move to make a change on the basis that the arrangement is no longer practical. This situation may arise when parents need to change an order that was created when their children were infants or they lived close to one another. If the circumstances are different now, sharing equal placement may have become unfeasible for the kids and parents. At this point, the parents can agree to modify or one may ask the court to make changes.
When deciding whether to modify legal custody or physical placement, a Wisconsin family court is going to consider the same factors as when it created its original order. It will also consider whether making changes is in the best interest of the child.
While it is preferred that kids endure the least amount of disruption to their lives and routines after divorce, there are times when it may be necessary to make formal changes. If you are in a situation where you need to return to court to modify custody or placement, it’s vital that you consult with an experienced Wisconsin family law attorney in order to assess your case. At First Look Family Law, attorney Karyn Youso has experience assisting clients with modifying legal custody and physical placement. Our office understands and can help. Call today to set your appointment.