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Child Custody Disputes: Understanding Your Rights and Options

by | Jun 1, 2023

When parents split up, working out child custody and care arrangements can get very complicated and emotional. Deciding custody means looking at your legal rights as a parent, the different types of custody, and what living situation would be best for your child. 

Child custody disputes are often the most painful part of divorce and separation. Having a good family law attorney who understands these issues is critical. 

VHD Law firm is here to help Wisconsin families with custody cases. We protect your rights as a parent while considering what is best for your child.

Different Types of Custody 

Child custody decisions are about where the child lives and which parent makes major life decisions. There are two main types of custody – legal and physical. Courts decide custody based on what is in the “best interests of the child.”

Legal Custody

Legal custody means the right to make essential choices about raising a child. That includes decisions about schooling, religion, and healthcare. Married parents share joint legal custody. If parents divorce, Wisconsin courts order joint legal custody if both agree. Otherwise, one parent gets sole custody. Joint legal custody does not always mean equal parenting time or shared physical custody. 

Physical Custody 

Physical custody states what parent(s) the child lives with. Types of physical custody in Wisconsin include:

  • Joint Physical Custody: The child splits time living with each parent at least 25% of the time. Requires cooperation and good co-parenting. Enables children to have close relationships with both parents. 
  • Sole Custody: The child lives primarily with one parent and visits the other parent on a schedule. The primary caregiver decides day-to-day issues.
  • Split Custody: For families with multiple children – some kids live with one parent while other kids live with the other parent. 
  • Shared Custody: An arrangement made by parents where children divide their time as evenly as possible between households. Parents share joint legal custody.
  • Bird’s Nest Custody: This is a rare arrangement where parents take turns living in the family home while children stay put.

The family law attorneys at VHD Law can advise which custody and placement options make the most sense for your family. Our goal is to make the process as smooth and fair as possible, keeping kids’ needs at the center while fighting for parental rights.

Factors in Custody Decisions 

In all custody cases, Wisconsin courts use the “best interests of the child” standard. They look at different factors to decide which living and custody solution is best for the child’s needs. There is no set formula – each family is unique. 

The main goals include enabling healthy bonding between the child and both parents and protecting children from the harm of parental conflict. In the end, the aim is stable caregiving and minimum disruption in the child’s life.

Common factors judges consider:

  • Child’s Age and Needs: Courts account for the child’s age, maturity, adjustment to home/school/community, and any special needs. Babies have different needs than teenagers, for example.
  • Parents’ Physical and Mental Health: Judges evaluate mental illness, disabilities, and substance abuse issues that could endanger or impact parents’ ability to provide care.
  • Child’s Relationship with Each Parent: The court decides which parent has been the primary caregiver and with whom the child has a nurturing bond. Alienating a parent is frowned upon. 
  • Child’s Opinion: Judges may consider custody preferences, but children don’t make the final decision.
  • Ability to Financially Support Child: Judges examine income, jobs, and financial responsibility. A parent who can’t provide for a child is unlikely to get primary custody.
  • Cooperation Between Parents: Courts want joint custody, but it requires mutual respect and excellent communication/cooperation between parents. High parental conflict harms children’s interests.
  • History of Abuse/Violence: If there’s a risk of harm, an abusive parent’s custody rights may be restricted or supervised. Protecting children is the priority. 
  • Time Each Parent Spent with Child Before Separation: Judges often continue custody for the parent who was the primary caregiver before separation to maintain consistency.

Our family law attorneys closely examine all details of your unique situation to build the strongest custody case. Meet with them to learn how they can defend your rights and arrange fair custody.

Understanding Visitation Rights 

When one parent gets sole or primary custody, Wisconsin courts often grant the other parent “visitation rights,” allowing them to spend time with their kids. Visitation schedules have many forms, depending on each family’s best interests. Discuss your wishes with VHD Law’s family law team to create a detailed Parenting Plan specifying:

  • Exact routine visitation times/dates 
  • Holiday and vacation schedule 
  • Transportation Responsibilities 
  • Rules for contacting kids when with the other parent
  • Decision-making regarding health, school, etc
  • Process for future modifications as circumstances evolve

Sometimes, visitation is supervised if previous neglect/abuse is a concern. Overnights may be allowed if housing accommodations for kids are suitable. Many options exist. 

How Family Lawyers Help

Having an experienced family lawyer makes custody battles much more manageable. The VHD Law team uses decades of experience, compassion, and mediation skills to achieve custody outcomes in children’s best interest while protecting parental rights. We help by:

  • Explaining Laws and Court Procedures
  • Gathering Important Documentation
  • Negotiating Settlements 
  • Questioning Witnesses
  • Making Persuasive Arguments

Our team guides you through litigation at every step and pursues solutions where your kids feel safe, loved, and cared for as you stay actively involved in their lives.

Modifying Custody Orders 

If significant changes happen after a custody order – like a parent moving far away or an older child wanting to switch homes – the agreements can potentially be re-examined and modified. The bar for altering court-ordered custody is higher than the initial decision. Wholesale revisions require formal legal action. Either parent can petition the court but must prove:

  • Changes are vital for the child’s wellbeing 
  • The current order harms the child’s best interests 
  • Circumstances were out of the parent’s control

Minor custody order tweaks may happen informally if both parents agree to Parenting Plan adjustments and submit written consent to attorneys and the court. However, informal changes could trigger larger problems if handled poorly. Rely on VHD Law’s expertise to correctly file petitions or negotiate prudent modifications that provide more closure.


Child custody disputes often accompany painful life events like divorce and separation. On top of that are confusing legal issues that impact vulnerable children. But this process does not have to overwhelm you. 

If you face decisions about child custody, placement, visitation, or order modifications, the dedicated family law attorneys at VHD Law are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation

You and your children deserve stability and peace of mind post-separation. Trust VHD Law to secure that brighter future.

Written by Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C.

Family Law

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