The children are usually the most important issue for most divorcing parents. As a loving mother or father, you want to do everything possible to protect your relationship with each child. One significant factor in this is the physical placement schedule, which outlines when each parent has the right to be with the child and make daily, routine decisions about their life.
So what happens if two parents cannot reach a physical placement agreement on their own?
Mediation is step one
Separating parents generally have an opportunity to come up with a workable physical placement schedule on their own, before much outside influence. If they’re unable to do so, the court will get involved.
Step one is a mediation session, a requirement here in the state of Wisconsin. During mediation, the separating couple will have a chance to reach a resolution with the help of a neutral person who is trained to assist people in reaching agreements – the mediator. If they still can’t come to an agreement, then it’s on to the next step: an investigation.
The role of a Guardian ad Litem
After unsuccessful mediation, the court appoints an attorney who is called a Guardian ad Litem. This individual that represents the ”best interests” of a child in the case. The Guardian ad Litem investigates the family situation, then makes a recommendation for a physical placement schedule based on what is best for the child. The Guardian ad Litem is also required to advise the court as to what the wishes of the child are.
A social worker may also become involved
In some cases, the court may also require a custody study. This will include a social worker being appointed to look at:
- The condition of the child’s home
- How each parent is meeting their duties and responsibilities to the child
- Any mental health or substance abuse issues
- Any physical, mental or emotional abuse allegations
- Any other relevant factors
The court then reviews all of this information — as well as evidence from the parents — and makes an order for a physical placement arrangement. This may involve a trial which is costly and time consuming.
Because of the way this process works, there is not a standard placement schedule applied to every single family. While there are some basic templates, everything is done on a case-by-case basis. It is up to the parents to draw up an arrangement that works for them or allow the courts to decide. The best way for parents to maintain control over their children, their life and their schedules is to reach an agreement between themselves. Otherwise, strangers such as the Guardian ad Litem, the social worker and the court will impose a schedule upon them which they must follow, whether it works for them or not. Along with experienced attorneys, mediators and child specialists are also resources available to assist couples in creating a parenting plan to resolve the issues of custody and placement.