Many parents begin mediation stating, “I want 50-50 placement of my children. That is my right as a parent.” As a mediator, I must tell them that there is no such right in Wisconsin law. The law on placement, section 767.41 of the Wisconsin statutes, provides that the court must set a placement schedule that, “allows the child to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of placement with each parent and that maximizes the amount of time the child may spend with each parent.” The statute provides a list of factors that the court must consider in each case when determining an appropriate placement schedule. The focus of the law, and hopefully of both parents, is the best interests of the children.
Equal placement in various blocks of time is an option to consider, though there may be other schedules that would also achieve the goal of regularly occurring, meaningful periods of placement with Mom and Dad. After considering individual family circumstances, judges, lawyers and mental health professionals have defined shared placement to include many schedules other than 50-50 as being in the children’s best interests. Based upon work schedules, geographical separation, parent-child relationships, individual needs of children, ability of parents to communicate and work together and a host of other factors, many cases end with a placement schedule that does not necessarily carve children’s placement time in half. Child specialists are a valuable resource to give children a voice and help parents understand and focus on the needs of their children.
Determining a schedule that meets the best interests of the children is what Wisconsin law requires, and that can be a challenge. There is no one size fits all. Dividing time in a mathematically equal way may or may not be the answer.
As a lawyer-mediator, I urge parents to focus on creating a placement schedule that serves the best interests of the children while fulfilling the goal of allowing the children meaningful time and a healthy relationship with each parent.
Attorney Judith O’Connell, Peterson, Johnson & Murray
Judy O’Connell is a family law attorney in private practice with Peterson, Johnson & Murray, S.C. She is also a lawyer-mediator with Family Mediation Center and with the Milwaukee County Family Court Services.