What is the Difference Between Sole Legal Custody and Joint Legal Custody of My Children?

In Wisconsin, legal custody means the ability or authority to make all major decisions making concerning a minor child.  For example, the consent to marry, consent to enter military service, consent to obtain a motor vehicle operator’s license, authorization for non-emergency health care and choice of school and religion).  The emphasis is on “major” and parties usually face these types of decisions over where the children will attend school or daycare and major medical decisions such as medication and elective surgery.

The presumption in Wisconsin is for joint legal custody.  This means most of the time, the court will order joint custody over the minor children.  If the parties have joint legal custody of a child, both parties must jointly agree on all major decisions.   However, with respect to the right to make routine daily decisions regarding the child’s care, the party who has physical placement of the child at the time the decision is to be made.

Parents often argue or disagree about such things as haircuts, clothing, whether to give children over-the-counter medications, bed times, homework, non-physical discipline or punishments, etc.  Unfortunately, these are not considered to be major decisions and, therefore, there is no easy way to resolve those types of disputes.  Each parent has the right to make decisions regarding those “minor” issues when the children are in his or her placement.

If a party is awarded sole (full) legal custody of a minor child, they do not have to obtain permission from the other parent.  However, it is not very common for a party to be awarded sole custody.  The only time this occurs is if a parent is unwilling or unable to performing parental duties, if there is a compelling reason not to award joint custody or if the parties are unable to cooperate in the future.  Common examples of some reasons a court would order sole custody include drug or alcohol addiction, incarceration, abuse of the child or other parent, mental illness or simply being absent such as parents who are uninvolved or live out of the state.

To discuss your case and your custody questions, contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation or visit our website at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC for more information.