Many clients are confused about the differences between legal custody and physical placement, or believe that they refer to the same thing. However, in Wisconsin, legal custody and physical placement are two completely different concepts. Understanding the difference between these legal terms and their implications is important for anyone going through a divorce with children.
Under the Wisconsin statutes, legal custody means “the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child.” Wis. Stat. 767.001(2)(a). “Major decisions” include decisions such as “consent to marry, consent to enter military service, consent to obtain a motor vehicle operation’s license, nonemergency health care and choice of school and religion.” Wis. Stat. 767.001(2m). In other words, legal custody refers to the ability to make major life decisions regarding your child. There is a presumption in Wisconsin that joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child, although that presumption can be overcome in certain circumstances.
Physical placement, on the other hand, means “the right to have a child physically placed with that party and has the right and responsibility to make, during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child’s care, consistent with major decisions made by a person having legal custody.” Wis. Stat. 767.001(5). Put differently, it means the time that your child physically spends with one party or another. There is no presumption in the Wisconsin Statutes that 50-50 equal placement is in the best interests of a child, and each person’s situation and circumstances are unique. Placement schedules should be created on a case-by-case basis to address the specific schedules, needs and desires of parents and their children.
If you have questions about legal custody or physical placement, contact the attorneys at FOS for assistance.