How to Modify Child Custody in Wisconsin
If you have a child custody agreement in Wisconsin but feel it should be updated, you may be wondering if you can request changes. Custody agreements often need tweaking as children grow up and family circumstances evolve. The good news is, you can modify custody as long as you meet certain requirements. This guide covers everything Wisconsinites need to know about changing child custody: when and why you can request modifications, how long the process takes, and what it usually looks like for Wisconsin parents.
What is Child Custody?
It's important to understand the distinction between child custody and physical placement when considering modifications. Child custody refers to decision-making authority over major issues like health, education, and religion. Physical placement means where the child lives and the parenting schedule. Consult an attorney to evaluate whether your desired changes are to child custody or physical placement, as that impacts your chances of success. Joint custody – equal custody rights for both parents – is the default ruling in Wisconsin courts, so making a change to a different custody division requires compelling evidence.
Can Custody Change After Divorce?
Yes, child custody arrangements can be modified after a divorce. Custody is not permanently set in stone. Since kids and families are constantly changing, divorced parents may later seek out alterations to legal decision-making authority. Wisconsin law allows parents to petition the court for custody modifications if certain conditions are met.
When Can You Change a Custody Agreement?
In Wisconsin, the ability to change a custody agreement hinges on different things before and after the existing custody agreement reaches two years of age. Before two years, a change is only accepted if there is proof that the current custodial conditions are physically or emotionally harmful to the best interest of the children. Following two years, a change in the custody agreement can be agreed to if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” Examples of a “substantial change” include:
Changes in a parent’s physical/mental health, impacting their ability to make sound decisions for the child;
Disagreements between the parents on a major custody issue, such as the religious upbringing, schooling or health treatments of the child;
Frequent breaks in the terms of the existing custody agreement by a parent; and
Inability or unwillingness by one parent to participate in custody decisions.
The change in circumstances must directly affect the child’s well-being or best interests. You can’t request modifications just because you want to renegotiate or due to minor inconveniences. The court will deny requests that lack sufficient grounds.
How to Change a Custody Agreement in Wisconsin
If there is a legitimate reason to modify custody, work with your attorney to follow these steps:
Try mediation first. Informally renegotiating with the co-parent is the smoothest, and often the least expensive route. If both parents mutually agree to the changes, the mediator or attorneys can draft and file an amended agreement.
File a petition. If informal mediation fails, a parent can file a petition with the court that issued the current agreement. Explain the substantial change in circumstances and request specific custody modifications.
Notify the co-parent. The other parent of the child must receive formal notice of the filed petition and have a chance to respond.
The court may order a formal mediation. The court will likely order a formal mediation to see if an agreement can be reached. If not, custody hearings will take place and a judge will hear arguments and make a decision.
Get a court order. Once granted, custody changes are established through a written court order. This legally replaces the previous agreement.
Does Custody Change Child Support?
According to Wisconsin Law, child support is primarily calculated based on percentage of income and the parents’ amount of physical placement with the child. So if you modify the parenting plan, child support often needs adjusting, too. However, a change in the legal custody of the child doesn’t necessarily lead to a change in child support expectations. Review our previous blog on the topic and consult a attorney to determine if and how support should be realigned with new custody terms.
Can Custody Be Changed Without Going to Court?
Parents can mutually consent to revise their custody order, however, the revisions need to be reduced to a stipulation and court order to be enforceable. The parties may agree to attempt mediation informally, and the mediator will likely draft a stipulation and order to be signed by the parties and judge overseeing the matter.
How Long Does It Take to Change Custody?
The custody modification timeline varies case by case. Attempting an informal agreement via mediation first is generally a faster option. Contested cases requiring formal mediation or court hearings may take several months or more. Psychological evaluations, where court-appointed experts assess both parents’ ability, can significantly lengthen the process. Make sure you have patience, follow court orders, and focus on your child’s best interests throughout.
Can Only One Parent be Granted Custody?
Joint custody, meaning equal decision-making rights for both parents of a child, is the default ruling in the State of Wisconsin (and therefore most child custody decisions end in a joint ruling), but sole custody can be granted in various circumstances, including:
If both parents agree;
If one parent isn’t capable of providing custody; and
If there has been a pattern of interspousal battery between the parents.
Approachable, Honest Attorneys at The Everson Law Firm
Modifying custody takes time and effort, but it may be necessary as circumstances evolve over your child’s life. Although each child custody case is unique, attorneys at The Everson Law Firm have seen the various ways a change in child custody can play out and have years of experience representing clients in child custody cases. Compassionate family law attorneys at The Everson Law Firm are here to help. Contact us today to get started.