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What's the Difference Between Custody and Placement?

Child custody and placement are probably terms that you've heard if you are in the midst of a family law action. It's important to know the distinction. Do you know the difference?

Custody is a parent's legal right to make major life decisions about his or her children. Placement refers to the actual time the children spend with each parent.

Legal Custody

In Wisconsin, the statutory definition of legal custody is "the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child, except with respect to specified decisions as set forth by the court or the parties in the final judgment or order." Major decisions include medical treatment, school choice and religion. Other less common decisions that are covered by legal custody include a parent's consent for a minor to get a driver's license, get married and join the military.

The majority of single or divorced parents have joint legal custody of their children. This means that both parents have equal rights to make major decisions for the child, unless their judgment states otherwise. On some rare occasions, if it is in the best interest of the child, one parent is granted sole legal custody. This means that one parent has the right to make the major decisions for the child without the consent of the other parent.

Physical Placement

According to Wisconsin statute, "a child is entitled to periods of physical placement with both parents unless, after a hearing, the court finds that physical placement with a parent would endanger the child's physical, mental or emotional health."

It's important to note that there is no law in Wisconsin that says that the parents of a child must have equal placement time. Placement schedules are typically based on the already existing family dynamic, the child's schedule, the parents' schedules and most importantly, the best interest of the child. This means that placement schedules can vary greatly from case to case.

To discuss legal custody and physical placement with an attorney, call our office at 920-831-0300. We offer a free, 30-minute consultation.

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