Child custody in Milwaukee is governed by Wisconsin state law, which bases custody on what the court determines is in the best interests of the children involved. Parents must comply with custody orders or risk significant consequences. However, since circumstances can change after custody determinations are made, Wisconsin law provides guidance for modifying the custody order once it’s in place. The parent seeking a change in custody has the burden of proving to the court why the change is necessary.
Before Two Years
After issuing an initial custody order, a Wisconsin court will not change that order for two years unless there is a showing that the current conditions are physically or emotionally harmful for the child, such as physical abuse or drug use by a parent. However, if your custody arrangement gives substantially equal time to both parents, the court may modify the custody arrangement before two years if circumstances change so that it becomes impractical to continue the custody arrangement. For example, if one parent moves out of state, it would be impractical to require the child to alternate living one week with one parent and the next week with the other.
After Two Years
After the two-year point has passed, a Wisconsin court may change custody arrangements if there has been a substantial change in circumstances and the court finds modification is in the best interests of the child. For example, if the original custody arrangement was based on one parent living overseas but that parent has since relocated to Wisconsin, the court could change the custody arrangement to allow equal time with each parent. Wisconsin does not consider a change in either parent’s marital status or income to be a substantial change in circumstances.
Mediation is a discussion process between you, the other parent and a neutral mediator, during which you try to reach an agreement about custody. If you and the other parent cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the court may order you to attend mediation, but you and the other parent can also arrange for mediation on your own. If the court orders mediation but you and the other parent still cannot reach an agreement, the court may order studies and evaluations of the family to help it make a determination regarding custody. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem, which is a neutral person who represents your child in the custody dispute.
Change by Stipulation
You and the other parent can agree to custody changes without the court’s intervention, which is called a stipulation. To make your new agreement enforceable, you must ask the court to approve it by filing Form FA-604, Stipulation and Order, available on the Wisconsin Court System’s website. The court must accept your stipulated arrangement unless it believes the arrangement is not in the best interests of your child.
Motion for Change in Custody
If you cannot reach a stipulated arrangement with the other parent, you must file a motion asking the court to change your custody arrangement. The court that made your original custody order continues to have jurisdiction over your case until either your child no longer has a significant connection with Wisconsin and the evidence in the case is located elsewhere or your child and both parents no longer reside in the state. In Milwaukee, the court with jurisdiction to hear your case is the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. If you choose to represent yourself, motion forms are available on the Wisconsin Court System’s website. Your motion should include a brief description of what you are requesting from the court and why. Once you have filed this motion with the court, the court will set a hearing date. You must serve the other parent with a copy of the motion and notification of the hearing date.