Zacherl, O'Malley &
Endejan, S.CFond Du Lac Law

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Child Custody Attorneys

Child custody Attorney Fond du Lac, Wi

Child Custody Attorneys in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Child custody disputes are some of the most challenging, emotionally charged family law issues people face in Wisconsin. At the same time, it’s important to protect yourself and spare your children as much pain as possible as you work through the divorce and child custody process. That’s difficult to do when you’re struggling with complex legal procedures and the intense emotions that come with getting a divorce.

If you need help with child custody proceedings in Fond du Lac, reach out to the Law Offices of Zacherl, O’Malley, & Endejan S.C. Our family law attorney save served Fond du Lac County residents since 1990, and we know what you’re dealing with. We have extensive experience helping clients address issues related to legal separation, visitation, child support, spousal support (alimony), and dividing marital property. We can also represent you in mediation sessions with your spouse to help you avoid a prolonged, expensive trial in family court.

We understand how hard these cases are and can take the legal burden from your shoulders. Call us today or complete our online contact form for a free consultation.

How the Child Custody Process Works in Wisconsin

Before getting into the details of how the legal process works in Wisconsin child custody cases, there are some critical terms to know. The first is “custody.” The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) defines custody as a parent or guardian’s legal right to care for and make vital decisions for a child. One parent or guardian may have sole custody of a child, meaning they have sole authority to make important decisions and care for the child. Alternatively, the parents may share custody (joint custody). Some states use the term “legal custody” to describe what Wisconsin law simply calls custody.

The other critical term to understand is “placement.” The DCF says placement refers to where a child spends their time. Other states use the term “physical custody” or “parenting time” when referring to this concept. Typically, parents will divide placement time with a child, an arrangement commonly called shared placement. However, one parent may have primary placement, meaning the child spends all or the majority of their time with that parent.

Now that you understand these terms, following are the basic steps in the Wisconsin child custody process:

Step 1: File Your Case

 To start your custody case in Wisconsin, you must prepare and file the necessary documents with your county’s clerk of court. Those documents could be a petition for legal separation, a petition for divorce, or an emergency petition. After filing these forms, you must serve the other parent with these documents. You can do this personally, ask a sheriff’s deputy to do it, or have a process server do it. Once the court receives proof of service, your case officially begins. In urgent situations, you might need to request emergency orders to protect your child’s health and well-being immediately.

Step 2: Get Temporary Orders

 The next step is to attend a hearing for a temporary order. At this hearing, a judge will review your case and decide where the child will live and who will have custody over them while the legal process plays out.

Step 3: Go to Mediation

 Mediation is a must in Wisconsin, except in specific cases like those involving domestic violence. A neutral third-party mediator, often an experienced attorney, will work with you and your spouse to reach an agreement. This step is crucial for finding common ground without a court battle.

Step 4: Take a Parenting Class

 Parents involved in custody disputes must complete a court-approved parenting class. These classes, some of which are available online, provide strategies to help parents and children manage the stress of the custody process.

Step 5: Attend Status Conferences

 A few months into the case, the court will schedule a status conference to check on your progress. If you and your spouse have reached an agreement, the case might conclude here. Otherwise, the court may involve additional professionals like a Guardian ad Litem or initiate a custody study (custody studies are typically only necessary for high-conflict situations).

Step 6: Participate in Discovery

 If mediation fails, the next step in your case is the discovery phase before a trial. Discovery involves exchanging information and evidence, such as emails, medical records, and more, to prepare for trial. It may also include depositions, where your and your spouse’s lawyers can question either of you or witnesses under oath.

Step 7: Prepare for Trial

 Before trial, you’ll need to complete additional paperwork and prepare your arguments with your attorney. You and your lawyer will use the evidence you’ve gathered to advocate for the custody arrangement you believe is in your child’s best interest.

Step 8: Go to Trial

 During the trial, each parent presents their case, including proposed parenting plans, evidence, and witness testimony. The court then decides what your custody arrangement will be based on what’s best for the child. Wisconsin law lists the factors judges must consider in custody disputes, such as:

  • The parents’ ability and willingness to communicate and cooperate
  • Each parent’s age, health, and financial resources
  • How much time each parent has spent with the child and the quality of that time
  • The child’s wishes, though the judge does not have to honor the child’s wishes
  • Any history of domestic violence, criminal activity, substance abuse, etc.


Step 9: Receive Final Orders

The court finalizes the custody decision with an official order. This ruling determines the custody and placement arrangement for your child and is only modifiable under certain conditions.

What Comes Next?

After the judge issues the final custody order, it’s time to follow the new guidelines on parenting time, decision-making, and child support. Sometimes, however, the original order needs adjustment to better suit your child’s evolving needs or significant changes in your circumstances. To modify a custody order, you must present clear evidence of substantial changes in your life or the child’s needs.

This is where legal representation becomes crucial. Custody lawyers can guide you through the process, help you compile compelling evidence, and articulate a strong case for why a modification is in your child’s best interest. A lawyer’s understanding of family law and the court’s requirements for altering custody arrangements can significantly increase your chances of achieving a favorable outcome.

Benefits of Hiring a Child Custody Lawyer

There are two main benefits of working with child custody law firms in these cases. The first is that there are many steps in a child custody dispute, and a misstep at any point could derail your case. A family law lawyer can explain the process, help you with the legal procedures, and advocate for your interests in mediation or at trial.

The second advantage of hiring an attorney for a custody dispute is to make things easier for yourself. Managing a divorce and custody battle is a huge burden, and trying to handle your case without help will likely drain you physically and emotionally. A custody lawyer can take on this burden for you while you focus on other issues.

Do You Need an Attorney in a Wisconsin Custody Battle?

While there’s no law saying you must have a lawyer for your custody case, we strongly urge you to hire one. The best way to protect your interests and your child’s future is to work with an experienced, capable family law and divorce attorney. They can handle the legal details and protect your rights while you spend time with your child.

Contact Our Wisconsin Custody and Placement Attorneys Now

The Law Offices of Zacherl, O’Malley, & Endejan S.C. have served Fond du Lac for over 30 years, and we’re ready to help you through this challenging period in your life. Call us today or reach out online for a free consultation with our family law attorneys.

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