If parents end their relationship, they must often continue to interact as the co-parents of their children. Although parents might not always get along or may disagree with their current custody arrangement, they can more easily change their custody arrangement by coming to an agreement on their own and avoiding court intervention. If parents have a contested custody battle in a Wisconsin circuit court, the custody process may become more difficult and time-consuming.
Understand Wisconsin Custody Laws
Before requesting a court-ordered modification to change a custody arrangement, each parent should understand the custody terms in the current order for custody. In Wisconsin, parents can obtain a court order for custody as part of a divorce case or in a paternity action. A court order usually establishes each parent's right to legal custody, which determines who can make major decisions in the child's life. The court order also explains each parent's role in the child's physical placement, which establishes a schedule for each parent to spend time with the child. A mother or father who is well informed about the current terms may be able to participate more easily in negotiations to change the custody order.
Resolve Custody Issues by Agreement
If either parent would like to modify an existing order for custody and the other parent agrees, the parents can avoid a contested trial in a Wisconsin circuit court. Rather than ask a judge to determine a custody modification, parents can jointly complete, sign and file a "Stipulation and Order to Change" form with the circuit court that issued their current order. The parents can use the form to explain a new arrangement for legal custody, physical placement or both; the circuit court must approve their agreement unless the judge believes the terms do not serve the child's best interests. However, each parent should understand the custody rights given by Wisconsin law before signing any agreements with the other parent.
Participate in Mediation Services
If parents try to negotiate a change in custody but cannot reach an agreement, they might participate in mediation services through a Wisconsin circuit court. Mediation may allow the parents to resolve their differences with the help of a neutral third party. If only one parent believes mediation would help, that parent may request mediation by filing a Request for Court Ordered Mediation form with the local circuit court. In addition, a judge can order the parties to attend mediation in advance of a trial. If parents agree to a custody modification during mediation, they can put the terms in writing and ask the court to approve the new arrangement. Although mediation generally requires a small fee, some parents might prefer to pay for mediation services rather than hire attorneys for a contested trial.
Cooperate with the Guardian ad Litem
If parents cannot reach an agreement to modify custody on their own or through mediation, the Wisconsin circuit court typically schedules a contested hearing in court for the case. When parents have a contested custody issue, the court may choose to appoint a guardian ad litem for the child involved; the guardian ad litem is an attorney who only represents the child's interests. The guardian ad litem may investigate the case, interview the involved parties and gather evidence. Parents who cooperate with the guardian ad litem's investigation may be able to make a more favorable impression before the guardian ad litem makes a recommendation to the court regarding custody modification. If parents would like to avoid a contested proceeding, they can decide at any time during the guardian ad litem's investigation to reach an agreement on their own, for approval by the court and guardian ad litem.