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When Can Wisconsin Parents Modify a Child Custody Order?

When parents divorce or split up, securing child custody and visitation order can be a major accomplishment. After this happens, parents can focus on following the order and finding a new normal with their children. It can take some time, but eventually, parents and children can settle into the new routine and regain stability.

Unfortunately, this sense of calm may not last forever. Often, circumstances will change over time, requiring parents to revisit a parenting plan and consider custody modifications. Below, we examine when this might happen and what parents should do to avoid contentious legal battles.

When to seek a modification

Generally speaking, modification may be appropriate when there is a substantial change in parties’ circumstances or when a child’s well-being would be better served by an order for modification.

Therefore, some examples of situations that might warrant modification include:

  • Parental relocation or change in working hours
  • Allegations of child abuse or domestic violence
  • Fitness of parent is called into question
  • A change in a child’s medical, physical or psychological needs
  • Health complications for a parent
  • Parental incarceration

Understand that in general, parents must wait two years before seeking a modification, unless it is an emergency. This time limit allows everyone to adjust to the changes and find some stability in a new situation.

After two years, parents can file a petition for modification if there is reason to believe changing the order would be in everyone’s best interests — especially the child’s. As stated in Wisconsin statutes, courts consider numerous factors before awarding or denying modification requests but protecting the child’s well-being with be the top priority.

Modifying an order the right way

Some parents think they can make informal changes on their own, without court approval. However, doing so can lead to serious problems if one person fails to comply with the new (but unauthorized) terms, as the courts can only enforce the terms of a valid order.

Because of this, it is important to discuss the legal avenues to properly pursue custody modification in Wisconsin with an attorney.