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Vol. 73, No. 4, April 2000
Wisconsin's Custody, Placement,
and Paternity Reform Legislation (Summary)
by Christopher D. Walther

 The law:  “The court shall set a placement schedule that allows the child to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent and that maximizes the amount of time the child may spend with each parent, taking into account geographic separation and accommodations for different households”

The Reason for the Law:

New legislation should help reduce the custody warfare that is harmful to children by giving parents a clear picture of the law's mandates and expectations - that both loving, involved parents will be treated equally and will be able to play significant roles in their children's lives.

Regularly Occurring and Meaningful Defined:

Section 767.24(5)(em) requires courts to consider the child's need for regularly occurring and meaningful periods of placement to provide predictability and stability. Courts must avoid the overly simplistic solution of awarding school year placement to one parent, and summer placement to the other parent. Instead, the placement with each parent needs to be regular so that the child can maintain and develop a relationship with each parent. The requirement that the placement be meaningful directs the court to set a placement schedule that allows for more time than a few hours each week for dinner. Time is a crucial component in giving both parent and child an opportunity to adjust to placement transitions and fully develop their relationship.

Maximized Defined:

The most important change to placement law is found in section 767.24(4)(a)2, which requires courts to set a placement schedule that "maximizes" a child's time with each parent after considering the enumerated placement factors. It is important to read the requirement to maximize placement in the context of the placement factors, and not as a requirement for equal placement in all cases. For example, placement for a long haul truck driver who is home one day a week can be maximized with placement on the one day a week when that parent is home. Similarly, the statute requires courts to consider geographic separation when maximizing placement. An equal placement schedule maximizes placement for two parents who live in the same neighborhood, or in the same school district. But equal placement is a practical impossibility in cases of a substantial geographic separation.

Another Reason Why.

In signing this legislation, Gov. Thompson stated, "[w]e need to do more to make sure both parents are fully involved in the raising of their children, particularly fathers. Yet, we must continue to balance this goal with doing what's best for the child and providing protections for women in abusive and intimidating situations. I am confident the provisions I am signing help strike a better balance."

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