Filing for Child Custody & Placement in WI: 3 Steps

The journey to a child custody and placement order begins with opening a case — also called filing a case. Before you do this, consider the ways you can resolve your case:

Custody and placement issues can be addressed independently or as part of any divorce, separation or paternity case.

If you hire an attorney, they will file your case for you. Otherwise, follow the steps below. Some requirements may vary by case and county.

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

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Step 1: Complete your forms

Some forms that aren't available online can be obtained from the clerk at the court where you'll file. This should be in the county where either parent lives, so long as they have lived there for at least 30 days, and lived within Wisconsin for at least six months. Make at least two copies of all completed forms.

Note that the petitioner is the parent opening the case, while the respondent is the other parent. However, if parents file for divorce or separation together, one is known as Joint Petitioner A and the other as Joint Petitioner B.

All cases require a Confidential Petition Addendum. If you can't afford court fees, fill out a Petition for Waiver of Fees and Costs.

The following forms are for specific case types.

Divorce and separation

Complete a Financial Disclosure Statement.

If both parents want to divorce or separate, they can complete a Joint Petition together. If they have a settlement ready, they attach their parenting plan and other written agreements.

Parents who are already legally separated and ready to divorce should sign a Stipulation Converting Legal Separation to Divorce together.

If you're filing on your own, fill out a Petition With Minor Children. Next, fill out the top portion of the Summons With Minor Children.

Although it's not required, requesting temporary orders may prevent disputes during the case and get your issues heard sooner. Parents who agree on temporary arrangements fill out a Stipulation for Temporary Order.

If parents disagree, either one can fill out an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit to Show Cause. This is the recommended route if your spouse won't have an attorney as it stresses the importance of appearing in court for a hearing.

Another option is to fill out a Notice of Motion and Motion for Temporary Order with the supporting affidavit. This is more common if there's an attorney on the other side since they understand the necessity of appearing for a hearing.

Custody and placement only (unmarried parents)

If you and the other parent establish your child's paternity via a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form, either of you can fill out the request for orders packet that applies to county where you'll file it. Make at least five copies of each form you fill out.


If the child does not have a legal father, their mother or alleged father could request genetic testing at the local child support office or draft a summons and petition to establish paternity.

There isn't an official court form for establishing paternity, but it is similar to a summons and petition for divorce minus the property division information. You could make the form yourself or hire an attorney to do it.

Basically, you'll name each party, the children involved and state that you're asking for a paternity judgment. Your local courthouse might allow you to view paternity petitions to model your form after.

The mother receives primary placement by default. Be sure to specify in your petition that you're also seeking a placement schedule if you want an alternate arrangement.

Step 2: Turn in your paperwork

You can hand in your forms (originals and copies) by giving them to the clerk of circuit court, or you can file electronically.

If you go the electronic route, make sure your documents meet the requirements for e-filing. You'll receive a Notice of Electronic Filing as confirmation the court has received your paperwork.

Unless the court approves a fee waiver request, you have to pay filing fees. These vary by county, but expect to pay at least $200 as your case must also include child support. Requesting spousal maintenance (alimony) might cost extra.

Step 3: Have the other parent served

Service is how participants in a case provide copies of documents to each other.

You must serve the respondent or their attorney with a copy of the forms you filed within 90 days of filing. If you're divorcing or separating, leave out the completed financial form, and give them a blank version instead.

If you filed a Motion for Temporary Orders, you don't have to include a Notice of Motion in the service packet, but the judge may question whether the other party was served a copy if they fail to appear for the hearing.

If you filed a joint petition or the respondent agrees in advance (common in settlements), you can give them the documents directly, along with an Admission of Service.

Otherwise, have an adult who's not involved in the case deliver the documents for you. You can use a friend or relative. If you want a sheriff or deputy to serve instead, go to your sheriff's office and fill out an Aid in Serving form. Fees range from $40 to $75, plus a charge for mileage. You could also find a private server online for a comparable fee.

Whoever serves the forms for you should complete an Affidavit of Service, which you must file with the court. The case cannot progress without this proof.

Responding to a petition (for respondents)

Once you're served with a petition and summons, you have 20 days to submit a response to the court. You should call the court listed to check whether there's a pending court date.

On your own or, ideally, with the help of an attorney, fill out a Response and Counterclaim. Serve a copy to the other parent or their attorney. (See Step 3 to learn how.) Then file the original with the court. If it's a divorce or separation case, you must also complete and file a Financial Disclosure Statement.

If you don't respond, the court can enter a default judgment, meaning only the parent who opened the case will have a say in the final order.

However, if you're a parent in the military, the court cannot issue a default judgment against you. Consult with an attorney experienced in such cases to ensure your rights are protected.

Preparing for what comes next

The next step in the court process depends on your county and your case. You might have a court proceeding like a temporary orders hearing, or you might attend mediation.

No matter what's next for you, take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom placement calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more.

You can use it to put together proposals for the other parent, negotiate, prepare settlement paperwork or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Wisconsin Plan Now

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Plan

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Wisconsin Plan Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan