In any Wisconsin action for divorce, legal separation, annulment or paternity, the court may enter an order granting one or both parents the right of legal custody for their minor children. Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child. It is important to note that people often misuse the term “custody,” thinking it only means the physical placement arrangements or visitation schedule for their child. Custody is a much greater issue than just where the child lives, what visitation schedule the parents follow, and when the child is placed with each parent. It is possible -though unlikely- a parent with legal custody might rarely spend time with the child. It is also possible that a parent without legal custody may have frequent placement time and see their child quite often.
“Major decisions” include, but are not limited to, decisions regarding consent for the child to marry, consent for the child to enter military service, consent for the child to obtain a driver’s license, authorization for the child’s nonemergency health care, decisions about the child’s religious upbringing, where the child will go to school and other educational decisions. Major decisions do not involve the day-to-day decision making for the child, such as what they eat, how they dress, their bedtime, and what daily routine they follow.
If both parents share legal custody, and neither party’s legal custody rights are superior, then the parents share “joint legal custody.” If only one party has legal custody, that person has “sole legal custody.” The parties may reach an agreement to share joint legal custody, or that one parent will have sole legal custody. When the parents cannot reach an agreement on legal custody the court will decide for them.
When determining whether to order sole custody or joint custody, the court must base its decision on what is in the best interests of the child, while also applying a list of factors to each case. The law presumes that joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child. If the court finds a parent is not capable of performing parental duties, does not wish to have an active role in raising the child, or the parties will not be able to cooperate in the future decision making required under a joint legal custody situation, then the court may find that sole legal custody to one parent is appropriate. This may occur in cases where there has been domestic abuse, a serious substance abuse problem impairing decision making abilities, or where one parent unreasonably refuses to cooperate with the other parent.
Several factors the court considers when determining legal custody include: the wishes of the parents and the child, the parents’ past custodial roles and amount and quality of time spent with the child, the age and developmental needs of the child, the mental and physical health of a parent, the cooperation and communication between the parties and whether each party can support the other parent’s relationship with the child.
Finally, regardless of whether a parent has been granted legal custody of their child, the law provides that simply by virtue of being a legal parent of that child, each parent is entitled to obtain access to information about their child. Unless the court has ordered otherwise, access to a child’s medical, dental, school, or other records is available to a parent regardless of whether the parent has legal custody of the child.
For further information on this topic or other family law issues, please email Attorney Abby Theisen. (email@example.com) All of our attorneys may be reached by phone at 920-731-6631 to discuss the legal services you require.
What do you do...
when a holdiay gift causes more harm than good? Find out by reading next month's article.
Wisconsin Super Lawyers
Menn attorneys Joseph (Skip) Beisenstein, Mark Feldmann and Pat Coffey have been included in the 2011 Wisconsin Super Lawyer® ranking by the national publication of Law & Politics. In addition attorney Mitchell Musial was selected as a Rising Star for 2011.
Upcoming Community Events
Menn Law is proud to support many non-profit organizations in our community.
Friends of Appleton Public Library - Used book sale - Nov. 18-19
Boys and Girls Club of the Fox Valley - 4th Annual Turkey Trot - Nov. 24
Appleton Boychoir - A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols - Dec. 3
Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services - Race for the Light - Dec. 3