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Wisconsin Family Law on Domestic Violence

Wisconsin family law recognizes the need to protect spouses and children from abuse in matters such as divorce and child custody. Protection orders, sole legal custody, and mediation requirement exceptions are available to survivors of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Protection Orders During Divorce

If you were a victim of domestic violence during your relationship and you're concerned it'll continue during the divorce or child custody battle, you should consider applying for a domestic abuse restraining order. The procedures for this protection order are the same during divorce as for anyone else who can apply for one under Wisconsin Statutes Section 813.12.

Child Custody and Domestic Violence in Wisconsin

Child custody determination in Wisconsin is based on the "best interests of the child" standard. The court can order joint or sole legal custody of a minor. Joint custody is presumed in the best interests unless both parties agree to sole custody by one parent. However, the court can still find sole custody best if one of the parents abused either the child or the other spouse. A finding of this abuse creates a rebuttable presumption that the parties can't cooperate in future parental decision-making.

Wisconsin Domestic Violence Laws

The following table outlines the Wisconsin family laws related to domestic violence.

Code Sections

Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 767: Actions Affecting the Family

How Does Domestic Violence Effect Child Custody?

In the case of either a pattern of or a serious incident of domestic abuse, the presumption is that ordering joint custody or sole custody with the abuser will be detrimental to the child. The abusive parent can demonstrate to the court he or she can co-parent by successfully completing a batterers treatment or, if needed, drug or alcohol abuse treatment programs.

If both parents were violent, the court will determine who was the primary physical aggressor, as demonstrated by severity of injuries, likelihood of future injuries, and if a party acted in self-defense. This can effect with which parent the child resides.

How Does Domestic Violence Effect Divorce Mediation?

Many family law cases are court-ordered to attend mediation, including almost any involving the custody or placement of a child. The court can't hold a trial or final hearing on a custody or placement case until after mediation has ended. However, the court can waive mediation if it causes an undue hardship or endangers the health or safety of one of the spouses. The court considers anything relevant, including child abuse, domestic abuse, and significant alcohol or drug abuse problems, in making the decision to waive the mediation requirement.

The mediator can also terminate mediation if either party doesn't cooperate or the mediator believes it's not appropriate, for example, if there's evidence that a party engaged in abuse of a child or the other party.

Where Can I Get Help?

If anyone is hurting you, please let someone know. In an emergency, call 911. When you're alone, call the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for safety planning tips and referrals for services in your area.

For a divorce or child custody problem, it's best to consult with an experienced local family law attorney.

Note: State laws change frequently -- it's important to verify the laws you're researching.

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