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Wisconsin Law: At what age can a child decide which parent they want to live with?

So, you’re either going through a divorce or you already have an existing placement order. Your child is at an age where they have started to express an opinion as to which parent they want to live with or spend the most time with. At what age does the child’s opinion matter?

Under Wisconsin statutes, physical placement orders will be structured to either award shared placement to both parents or primary placement to one parent. Shared placement occurs when both parents have at least 25% of overnights per year. Primary placement occurs when one parent has more than 75% of overnights in a year. Wisconsin law provides that a child is entitled to meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent, unless such an order would endanger the child.

In a contested placement dispute, Courts will typically appoint a Guardian ad Litem for the minor child. A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who advocates for the best interests of the child and makes a recommendation to the court upon conducting an investigation. Under Wisconsin law, the Guardian ad Litem is required to consider the wishes of a minor child, but is not bound by those wishes when making their recommendation to the Court.

Similarly, the Court is required to consider the child’s wishes when determining periods of physical placement. However, the child’s opinion is only one of the many factors that the Court must consider. Among the other factors that the Court is required to consider are: the parents’ wishes, the age of the child, the amount and quality of time the child has spent with each parent in the past, the mental and physical health of the parents and child, etc.

Therefore, there is no specific age in Wisconsin where a child is able to decide which parent they want to live with. A child’s wishes must be considered by both the Guardian ad Litem and the Court once the child reaches an age where they are able to articulate those wishes. However, both the Guardian ad Litem and the Court are also required to consider all factors relevant to the best interests of the child, even if the result is a placement order that is contrary to the child’s wishes.

If you need help with a divorce or custody/placement dispute, please contact Petit & Dommershausen today and speak to one of our experienced family law attorneys. With three convenient locations in Oshkosh, the Appleton area, and Green Bay, we serve all of northeast Wisconsin including Outagamie, Winnebago, Waupaca, Calumet, Brown, Oconto, Marinette, and Fond du Lac counties.