Child placement: when can child decide?

In the state of Wisconsin, what age does a child need to be to determine with which parent he or she lives full time?

It’s a general misconception that children of a certain age can decide with which parent they can live, according to family law attorney Maureen Kinney of Johns, Flaherty & Collins. "There is no age where children have an absolute say as to which parent they will live with."

Wisconsin statutes provide in case of divorce or paternity actions that custody and physical placement is based upon a series of factors that the court considers. There are 16 factors, but Kinney says the most common relate to

  • the wishes of the parents;
  • the wishes of the child which may be communicated by either the child or appropriate professionals such as a guardian ad litem or counselor;
  • interaction of the child with the parent, siblings and other persons who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
  • the amount and quality of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past, any necessary changes to the parent’s custodial roles and any reasonable lifestyle changes that a parent proposes to make to be able to spend time with the child in the future; and
  • the child’s age and developmental needs.

The court is directed to provide for regularly occurring and meaningful periods of physical placement between the child and the parent to provide predictability and stability for the child. Regular and meaningful does not necessarily mean a 50-50 split. Additionally, the court is not to prefer one parent over the other based on sex or race of the parent but is to consider all facts relevant to the best interests of the child.

Kinney noted these factors only come into play when parents are not able to reach agreement amongst themselves. "It’s almost always best when parents can work out these issues on their own."

For more information about family law in Wisconsin, contact Maureen Kinney at 608-784-5678 


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