Children are often the most important part of their parents’ lives, and if parents decide to split up, the placement of their children can be one of the most contentious issues they must address. Child placement is the legal term describing which parent the children live with, when, or how the children divide their time between the parents.
Child placement is a separate concept from “child support,” which describes the financial support of the children and “child custody,” which describes the legal right to take care of and make major decisions concerning the children.
Different Types of Child Placement
There are three types of child placement in Wisconsin:
Co-equal shared physical placement (“50/50”) - Each parent has co-equal shared physical placement of the children;
Shared physical placement - Each parent has placement of the children for more than 25% of overnights in a calendar year; and
Primary placement – one parent has more than 75% overnights in a calendar year
How is child placement determined in Wisconsin?
Child placement schedules can be determined in one of two ways:
After reaching a settlement either on their own or with the help of a third party mediator, co-parents can turn their agreement in to the court. Settling out of court is a more affordable and timely option, and there is an ability to cater to the unique situation of the co-parents.
If co-parents are unable to reach a settlement and determine the placement schedule for their child, the decision can be made by a judge. During the trial, a neutral lawyer represents the child’s interests. This role is called the ‘Guardian ad Litem.’ Under Wisconsin law, the Guardian ad Litem and the judge must keep in mind ten factors when determining placement:
The wishes of the children;
The wishes of the parents;
The relationships of the children with the parents and other significant persons;
The children’s adjustments to home, community, school and religion;
The mental and physical health of the parties and the children;
The availability of child care;
The likelihood of one parent unreasonably interfering with the children’s relationship with the other parent;
Evidence of child abuse;
Evidence of interspousal battery; and
Whether either parent has a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse.
While these factors are all mandatory to consider, the court holds the right to take into consideration other factors depending on the specifics of the case.
Come Prepared to Negotiate Child Placement
Preparing potential placement plan options prior to meeting with the other parent can speed up the process considerably. When creating potential placement plans, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the other parent and be empathetic towards them. If you come to the negotiating table having put together potential plans that show empathy towards the co-parent, it can help quell tensions, prove that you’re taking the process seriously, and result in a smoother, faster negotiation process. Even if your plans are rejected, having an initial idea can still get the negotiation off on the right foot and provide a foundation for compromise.
Keep the Child’s Needs in Mind
When deciding child placement, it's crucial to put negative feelings and desires to 'win' aside and prioritize the child's welfare. There are many factors that could impact the needs of the child, including:
Age and developmental needs - While a young child needs to see both parents often, a more independent older child may benefit from steady placement.
Comfort with change - Some children are comfortable with frequent exchanges and shorter stays with each parent, while others prefer not to be uprooted as frequently.
The child’s commitments and schedule - Make sure exchanges don’t interfere with the child’s school schedule, bed time, or other important daily activities.
Preferences of the child - The older the child, the more likely they’d appreciate a chance to express their preferences for placement.
Consult a Lawyer
Establishing a child placement plan can be an anxiety-inducing and difficult process. A lawyer can serve as a trustworthy ally during these hard times and assist you through the process. Contact Everson Law today to schedule a consultation with a lawyer experienced in practicing family law. For more information on selecting the right lawyer for your situation, check out our previous blog post.