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Changing Circumstances-Wisconsin’s Requirements for Altering Child Custody and Placement

Change throughout life is inevitable and more prevalent where kids are concerned. Parents change jobs, families change homes and kids change schools. But how do these changes impact an existing legal custody and physical placement order?

Wisconsin courts do not take modifying custody and placement lightly. In fact, within the first two years after the initial order is put in place, absent extraordinary circumstances, a court is not to disturb custody and placement. After the first two years, it becomes slightly easier to change existing orders. To do so, a court is required to make two findings if the change(s) would substantially alter the amount of time the child spends with either parent: (1) that the change is in the best interest of the child; and (2) that there has been a substantial change in circumstances affecting custody and/or placement since the last order.

To determine whether the change is in the best interest of the child, a court will look to a number of statutory factors, including the age of the child and the child’s developmental and educational needs, the need for regular occurring and meaningful periods of time with each parent, and the child’s wishes. Courts must keep in mind the presumption in Wisconsin that maintaining the current custody and placement order is in the best interest of the child, as continuity and consistency is crucial in any child’s life. There is no set definition regarding what constitutes a substantial change in circumstances. However, the parent wishing to change an existing order must be able to point to an event or series of events that have occurred making the existing order inappropriate.

The Family Law group at DeWitt is experienced in assisting parents navigate the waters of child custody and placement, and we have substantial litigation experience. Litigation is seen as the last resort, and we are often successful in resolving conflicts through informal and formal mediation. If you or someone you know has any questions or concerns relating to child custody and placement, we are happy to answer questions and assist as needed.


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