No matter what you’ve heard on television, or read on the internet, in Wisconsin courts “custody” refers to the ability to make major decisions for a minor child. In any action affecting the family, including but not limited to divorce, legal separation, or paternity action, the court will enter an order addressing custody of a minor child. When the court enters an order awarding a party custody of a minor child the court is giving that party the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child.

These major decisions include, but are not limited to, decisions regarding the consent to marry, consent to enter the military service, consent to obtain a driver’s license, authorizations for non-emergency medical decisions, the choice of school, and the choice of religion.

The court may award the parties joint legal custody or sole legal custody of the minor child.

Joint legal custody gives the parties equal decision-making authority regarding the major decisions for the minor child. Neither party’s rights to make decisions for the minor child are superior to the other party.

Sole legal custody gives one party the authority to make major decisions for the minor child.

The court will consider the best interest of the child in making a determination on whether to award joint legal custody or sole legal custody. Pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes, the court shall presume that joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child. Wisconsin statutes also provide exceptions to that presumption if the parties agree to sole legal custody, the court finds that a party is not capable of performing parental duties and responsibilities, there is evidence that either party engaged in abuse of the child, or there is evidence of domestic violence.

Modification of Custody Orders. If you already have a court order regarding custody that court order may be modified. If the order you are seeking to modify was entered within 2 years of the final judgment the party seeking modification must show that the current custody arrangement is physically or emotionally harmful to the minor child. If the order you are seeking to modify was entered 2 or more years ago you must show that the modification you are seeking is in the best interest of the child and there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the entry of the last order affecting legal custody.

If you have questions regarding legal custody of your child contact one to the experienced family law attorneys at Lawton & Cates.