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Vox Pop - Wisconsin needs to end assumed joint custody in divorces

Vox Pop

A mother and twelve year old daughter were certain their nightmare was about to be over. Plagued by the stench of alcoholism accompanied with emotional and verbal abuse for years, the two hoped to never encounter the father again after a long, drawn out divorce. However, their worst nightmare was met when the court granted joint custody. Despite having a guardian ad litem to advocate for the daughter’s wishes of not wanting to be with her father, and evidence of verbal/emotional abuse, the outcome was to force joint custody.

Unfortunately, a multitude of families encounter this tragic issue in child custody disputes within the state of Wisconsin. This broken system in divorce courts does not consider the best interests of the child in child custody disputes, despite what the law requires. The court system also fails to include emotional and verbal abuse as a factor, something that is hard to document but easily prevalent in today’s society.

In instances of determining child custody, if the parents cannot come to an agreement, the court system will decide for them. Wisconsin law states the court shall mandatorily presume joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child, unless there is a pattern of serious interspousal battery or domestic abuse. In this instance, there must be a “preponderance of the evidence” of interspousal battery or domestic abuse, meaning you must prove something is more likely than not the truth. Therefore, even if there are some instances of abuse but not a multitude of documentation and real evidence, this is not enough for the court.

In a recent 2023 case, a Wisconsin divorce court ruled in favor of a father having sole legal custody of their minor children due to interspousal battery or domestic abuse and the parties being in constant conflict. However, with my first-hand experience of witnessing divorces with child custody issues, this outcome is extremely rare. The story of the mother and daughter being forced to have joint custody with the abusive father is something I painstakingly watched for years while hoping the court system would do right in this situation. The father was in constant conflict and unwilling to compromise as a co-parent, and there was evidence of his emotional and verbal abuse. However, this case did not have the same outcome as the 2023 case, and the family still encounters his verbal and emotional abuse to this day, even though the two are separated.

Wisconsin needs to get rid of the assumed joint custody as being the best interest of the child and needs to add emotional and verbal abuse within their statute of evidence to be considered with interspousal battery and domestic abuse. It is a new generation, and the Wisconsin divorce court system needs to wake up and see joint custody does more harm than good. They also need to realize emotional and verbal abuse can be as destructive as interspousal battery and domestic abuse. Open your eyes Wisconsin, because you’re abusing these families.

— Emily Rewolinski, Minnetonka, Minn.