15850 W. Bluemound Rd. Suite 304 • Brookfield, WI 53005

15850 W. Bluemound Rd. Suite 304 • Brookfield, WI 53005 • 262-788-5335

What Does the “Best Interest of the Child” Mean in a Wisconsin Custody Case?

In Wisconsin, when a family court needs to make decisions regarding a child’s custody and placement, it will examine several aspects of their life. Under the law, the judge’s choices must be in the “Best Interest of the Child.” If you are involved in a Wisconsin divorce or other child custody dispute, you will want to know: What does the “Best Interest of the Child” mean in a Wisconsin custody case?

Wisconsin Custody and Placement

When parents are involved in a child custody dispute, they are generally at odds over who should have decision-making authority regarding their child’s life and where they should reside. In Wisconsin family law cases, these issues are referred to as legal custody and physical placement.

Wisconsin Legal Custody

  • In a Wisconsin child custody matter, legal custody refers to a parent’s decision-making authority regarding their child.
  • Custodial decisions may include issues such as: where a child goes to school, their non-emergency medical treatment, psychological care, and extracurricular activities.
  • Parents can have joint legal custody wherein they both have equal rights to make these and other choices about their child.
  • Under Wisconsin law, “[j]oint legal custody” means the condition under which both parties share legal custody, and neither party’s legal custody rights are superior, except with respect to specified decisions as set forth by the court or the parties in the final judgment or order.”
  • Parents can also have joint custody where one parent has primary authority to make certain decisions. For example, if a child lives with one parent during the school year, and the other parent lives in another town, the school-year parent may have primary decision-making authority over routine educational issues.
  • If a parent has sole custody, they will be allowed to make these decisions without the other parent’s agreement.
  • When deciding legal custody, the court will consider what is in the best interest of the child, although in Wisconsin joint legal custody is presumed to be in the best interest of children.

Wisconsin Physical Custody (Placement)

  • Physical custody or child placement refers to a parent’s right to have their child with them.
  • Under Wisconsin law, “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.”
  • When both parents are safe and appropriate, Wisconsin law supports the child having “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.”
  • In determining the allocation of periods of physical placement, the court must consider each case on the basis of the Wisconsin best interest factors.

The Wisconsin Best Interest Factors

In Wisconsin, the law states that “in determining legal custody and periods of physical placement, the court shall consider all facts relevant to the best interest of the child.”

Wisconsin law provides a list of factors that the court must consider when making its child custody and placement determinations and deciding on best interest.

 These best interest factors are as follows:

  1. The parents’ wishes, 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,
  1. The wishes of the child, which may be conveyed by the child, their Guardian Ad Litem, or an appropriate professional,
  1. The degree of cooperation between the parties and whether either one unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other,
  1. Whether parents can support the other’s relationship with the child, including encouraging and facilitating frequent and continuing contact with the other parent, or whether a parent is likely to unreasonably interfere with the child’s continuing relationship with the other parent,
  1. The child’s interaction and interrelationship with their siblings, or anyone else who may impact their best interest,
  1. The child’s interaction and interrelationship with their parents the quantity and quality of time each parent has spent with the child, any necessary changes to custodial roles, and any reasonable lifestyle changes a parent is proposing that they will make to maximize child placement,
  1. Whether either parent, their romantic partners, or anyone who will live in the proposed custodial home has had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse,
  1. The child’s adjustment to home, school, religion, and community,
  1. The child’s age and developmental and educational needs at different ages,
  1. Whether the mental or physical health of a party, minor child, or other person living in a custodial household negatively affects the child’s intellectual, physical, or emotional well-being,
  1. Whether a parent, their romantic partner, or a person who will live in the custodial home has a criminal record or has abused or neglected the child or any other child,
  1. Whether there is evidence of interspousal battery or domestic abuse,
  1. Reports of appropriate professionals if they are admitted into evidence, and
  1. Any other factors the court deems to be relevant.

Ultimately, a Wisconsin family court will consider best interest facts and other information it believes to be important to help ensure that a child is provided with a safe, stable, and loving environment.

Wisconsin’s best interest factors and the state’s other related laws are in place to help ensure that the court issues custodial and placement orders that support children’s well-being. How parents share decision-making and time with their children will depend on the parties, their circumstances, and what the court believes to be in the child’s best interest. When there is evidence that a parent presents a danger to their child, the court is very likely to limit that parent’s custodial rights. However, when it determines that the child will benefit from having both parents in their lives, it will usually order joint legal custody and shared physical placement.

Contact a Wisconsin Child Custody Attorney

The Wisconsin best interest factors can be complex. If you have a child custody dispute, you will want to work with an experienced Wisconsin child custody attorney. Your child custody lawyer can help you understand the Wisconsin best interest factors and present the information and evidence that will matter most to the court.

Wisconsin Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law is an attorney and Mediator with the experience you need to help you with your Wisconsin child custody dispute. She can help you evaluate and understand the Wisconsin best interest factors and all other aspects of your case. If you have a child custody or divorce case in Metro Milwaukee, please contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.