Special Circumstances in Wisconsin Child Custody

Not all custody and placement cases are the same. If any of the following circumstances apply to your case, contact an attorney.

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History of crime, violence or substance abuse

One of the factors in custody and placement decisions is whether either parent has a history of crime, violence or substance abuse.

When a parent does have this history, it's common for the court to order a custody study to assess potential risks. The court could also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's best interest.

If the study or guardian ad litem indicates that a parent could jeopardize the child's well-being, the court is likely to make orders to protect the child.

If a parent does receive placement privileges, the court may order supervised visitation, allow daytime placement periods only, or require the parent to participate in therapy or drug testing. The court can lift these provisions if the parent shows sustained improvements in their behavior.

Protection from domestic or child abuse

Domestic abuse (also called domestic violence) occurs when someone intentionally causes physical pain or harm to their current or former spouse, child, relative or anyone living within the same household.

When a parent commits or threatens to commit domestic abuse, the other parent can petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) for themself or their child. Based on the information in the petition, the court determines whether to grant the order, which may require the abuser to:

  • Stop abusing or threatening you and your child
  • Stay away from you and your child
  • Avoid contacting you or your child directly
  • Follow any other restrictions the court deems necessary

Within 14 days of issuing the TRO, the court holds a hearing to determine whether to grant a final restraining order. This can extend protections up to two years for a child and up to four years for an adult, and place additional restrictions on the abuser like preventing them from purchasing firearms.

Victims of domestic abuse can get protection during court proceedings as well. The court may:

  • Require the presence of a deputy in the courtroom
  • Give each parent a separate entrance/exit
  • Have a parent escorted in and out of the courthouse
  • Ask one parent to stay in the courtroom until the other leaves


If a parent wants to move their child less than 100 miles from the other parent, they need to send the other parent a notice with the new address within 10 days after the move from the current residence. The parent who moves must continue to follow the placement schedule as ordered by the court.

If a parent wants to move their child 100 miles or more from the other parent, they must get permission from the other parent or the court. (However, when the parents already live more than 100 miles apart, the moving parent needs only to notify the other parent at least 60 days in advance.)

To get court permission, the parent who wants to move must write and file a motion stating:

  • The date of the move
  • The reason for the move
  • The new address
  • The proposed placement schedule
  • The suggested split in transportation costs
  • Any necessary changes to legal custody

The parent should file this motion with the court that made the original placement order. Then, they must send a copy to the other parent along with a blank Objection to Relocation form (provided by the court) and a notice stating that the deadline to object is five days before the relocation hearing.

The hearing occurs within 30 days of the motion's filing. If the other parent doesn't object or attend the hearing, the court allows the relocation, so long as the move is in the child's best interest.

Parents who agree on a big move may choose to submit a revised parenting plan with long-distance parenting provisions for court approval.

Parent in the military

Like all states, Wisconsin follows the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which grants certain protections to those in the military. The court:

  • Cannot use a parent's military duty against them when making a custody and placement ruling
  • Cannot issue default judgments against active-duty service members
  • Must give active-duty service members extra time to respond to petitions
  • Must delay court hearings until the active-duty service member involved is available to attend

While a parent is away on military duty, they may give their parenting time to a relative or spouse. The placement schedule that was in place before the parent left resumes once they return home.

Grandparent visitation and custody

A grandparent may petition for visitation rights if the child's parents are separated or divorced, or if one parent is deceased. For the court to grant their request, the following must all be true:

  • The child isn't adopted
  • The grandparent has a relationship with the child or tried to maintain a relationship but the child's parent prevented it
  • The grandparent will respect the legal custody decisions of the parents
  • Visitation with the grandparent is in the child's best interest

For the court to name a grandparent the child's primary caregiver (which is rare), the grandparent must prove that neither parent is fit to care for the child.

Addressing special circumstances in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But it must follow a format the judge will understand and use language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want.

It's a sure way to get a plan that's both up to court standards and tailored to your family.

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