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What happens with children in contested child custody cases?

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2023 | Custody and Parenting Time |

Child custody disputes are difficult for both Wisconsin parents and their children. Contested child custody matters might be filled with emotional conflict, and some parents involve their children in the disputes they have with each other. When courts make decisions about child custody and whether to grant joint or sole legal decision-making authority and how to determine which parent the child will primarily live with, the judge might question the children in chambers outside of the presence of both parents. This allows the court to gain a better understanding of the family dynamics and enables the judge to make a decision that is in the best interests of the child.

What happens when child custody is contested?

A child’s parents might disagree about child custody and parenting time. Each parent will submit a promised parenting plan to the court if they can’t agree. In cases that are conflict-filled and involve multiple allegations made by the parents against each other, the court will likely appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interests. The guardian ad litem (GAL) will investigate the facts, interview both parents separately, complete home visits, and speak with others who know the family and the child. The GAL’s role is to ensure the child’s best interests are protected, and they will make recommendations to the court based on their findings. The court will take the recommendations into consideration along with other evidence presented by both sides during a custody hearing.

Questioning of the child

In most cases, children won’t be called to testify in a contested child custody hearing in open court in front of both parents. Judges typically will only consider a child’s preferences if the child is of sufficient age and level of maturity. The judge might question the child in the judge’s chambers outside of the parents’ presence and only with the GAL and a court reporter. The questions will be geared toward getting the child’s perspective on each parent’s parenting style and the relationship the child shares with both.

Unless one parent has problems severe enough to place the child in danger while in the parent’s care, the other parent should anticipate the court will grant liberal visitation to both parents. Those who are able to negotiate with each other and work out a parenting agreement might be happier with the outcome than if they instead leave it up to the court.