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What Does the ‘best Interests of The Child’ Mean in Wisconsin?

Schwei & Wendt, S.C. Jan. 29, 2019

Determining a child custody agreement can be extremely difficult. Judges often use the ‘best interest’ standard when making their decision. Generally, a child’s best interest is an arrangement that is safest and most enjoyable for the child.

The ‘best interests’ standard developed out of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC is a treaty pertaining to international human rights law.

Article 3 of the UNCRC states “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration” in all cases concerning children in the courts or other agencies. While the United States has not ratified the law, many courts have adopted the best interest standard in child custody proceedings.

Best Interest Factors

Generally, separating or divorcing parents in Wisconsin must attend court-supervised mediation as a first attempt to determine a custody agreement. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, Wisconsin requires the parents to provide a custody arrangement proposal to the courts. These “parenting plans” generally include the following:

  • Visitation and custody schedule, including holidays

  • How major life decision’s will be made for the child

  • Parent’s current residence and potential future residences

  • Location of the parent’s job

  • The school the child will attend

  • Who will be the child’s care provider and medical doctor

  • How the child’s expenses will be paid

Courts combine these parenting plans with several other factors to determine a child’s best interest. Additional factors can include the child’s personal preference and relationship with his or her parents, age and sex of the child, emotional and physical needs, incidents of domestic violence, evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, cultural considerations and effects on the child’s daily routine.

In Wisconsin, judges award physical and legal custody. A child lives with the parents who have physical custody. Parents who receive legal custody can make important life decisions for the child. Once a court awards a child custody order, parents can only modify the order if there is a substantial change in circumstances or both parents want a modification.

It can be beneficial to consult with an experienced family law attorney about questions regarding modifying your custody order and developing a parenting plan that is in your child’s best interest.