Many times when potential clients come in to see me regarding a child custody dispute, the first words out of their mouth is “I want full custody.” I know what they mean, but what they are saying is not technically correct.
In Wisconsin, family court orders refer to both custody and placement.
Custody is the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child. Major decisions include consenting to marriage, consenting to enter the military, consenting to obtaining a driver’s license, authorizing non-emergency medical care and choosing the child’s school and religion.
Placement is the right to have the child physically placed with you and the right and responsibility to make, during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child’s care. Daily decisions include daily activities such as diet, social activities, discipline, etc.
In Wisconsin, there is a presumption of joint legal custody so unless there are extraordinary circumstances, the court will most likely order that the parties have joint legal custody. In cases where the court has ordered joint legal custody, one parent’s right to make the decisions outlined about does not carry any more weight than the other parent’s right to have a say in that decision.
The law does not require parents to share equal physical placement, but rather dictates that a schedule is based on the best interest of the child. The court looks at many different factors when determining the schedule such as the ability of each parent to care for the child, the parents’ wishes, the child’s wishes, the parents’ ability to cooperate, family ties, relationships with “significant others,” etc.
When someone says “I want full custody” what they really mean is that they want to have their child with them most, if not all, of the time i.e. they want primary physical placement. Regardless of what either parent wants, the needs of the child will always be paramount, and the best interest of the child will ultimately prevail.