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Physical Placement and Legal Custody in Wisconsin

by | May 5, 2017

Under Wisconsin law, there are three types of child custody: joint legal custody, sole legal custody, and a combination of the two. There are three types of physical placement: primary physical placement shared physical placement, and split physical placement.


If you are awarded legal custody, you have the right and responsibility to make major decisions relative to your children. Major decisions include education, religion, and medical care.

When custody is awarded to both parents, it is defined as joint legal custody. In Wisconsin, there is a presumption that joint legal custody is what is best for the children. If legal custody is awarded to only one parent, it is called sole legal custody. The court may grant sole legal custody if it finds that sole legal custody is in the best interests of the children, and any of the following apply:

A) Both parties agree to sole legal custody.

B) The parties disagree over sole legal custody, but one party is not capable of performing parental duties and responsibilities, or one or more conditions exist that interfere with joint legal custody.

C) The parties will not be able to cooperate in decision-making.

The third type of legal custody is an award of joint legal custody to both parties, with one party having final decision-making authority, in the event the parties cannot reach an agreement.


In contrast, physical placement is where the children reside on any given day. The person with physical placement has the right and responsibility to make routine decisions regarding the child’s care while the child is in his or her placement.

In most cases, both parents are awarded some form of physical placement. The actual placement arrangement may take one of three basic forms:

A) Primary placement. In Wisconsin, the person with primary placement has the overnight placement of the children for at least 75% of the year.

B) Shared placement. Under Wisconsin law, if a parent has at least 25% or 92 days of physical placement per year, placement is considered shared.

C) Split custody. Split custody is unusual, but in that instance, children are split between the parents. Generally, with split custody, the children are together every weekend and for substantial parts of the summer.

Careful consideration should be given to both joint custody and physical placement of your children. Your decision-making will impact your children’s lives forever. It is important to obtain input not only from your divorce attorney or family law attorney but also from, on many occasions, your child’s therapist. In divorce, it is often recommended to involve the input of a child coordinator who can assist in addressing the best interests of the children. Because in Wisconsin there is a relationship between child support paid and the amount of time the child support payor has placement of the children, too often the best interests of the children are secondary to financial concerns. It is imperative to put the interests of the children before the cost of child support. It is often better to compromise on financial issues if compromise means that your children’s needs will be better addressed.

Contact the attorneys at Vanden Heuvel & Dineen S.C. in one of our six locations in Germantown, West Bend, Sturgeon Bay, Appleton, Sister Bay, and Milwaukee. to address your concerns and questions regarding joint custody and physical placement.  They are knowledgeable and experienced in the field, and care about what happens to you and your children. Call 1-800-805-1976 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation. You may also want to obtain a copy of attorney Linda S. Vanden Heuvel’s book, Divorce in Wisconsin: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect.

Written by Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C.

The outstanding legal team of Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C. provides each client with top-quality legal representation. The firm is known throughout Wisconsin for its careful and thorough legal work.
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