How to File for Full Custody in Wisconsin

By Stephanie Reid

Updated July 21, 2017

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Full, or sole, custody is appropriate in certain situations such as those that involve abuse, domestic violence, abandonment and/or substance abuse. Full custody may also be best if the other parent is incarcerated or going through a severe mental disability. Depending on your situation, you may face an uphill battle in excluding the other parent from having any custodial rights over your child. However, Wisconsin law supports an award of full custody when the arrangement is in your child's best interests. If you can show the court evidence that your child is comfortable, happy and in good care in your custody, the judge may award you full custody.


In Wisconsin, your case begins when you file your petition for custody and accompanying paperwork with the circuit court clerk in the county or jurisdiction where the child resides. Your petition must set forth true and accurate facts supporting your assertion that you should be granted full custody of your child. If it is your first time filing for custody, in most cases, the child must have lived in Wisconsin for at least six months prior to your filing the petition. The court staff at your circuit court may be able to assist you in ensuring that you file the correct paperwork. Along with your custody documents, you must file an affidavit of service, which certifies that you served the other parent with the appropriate custody documents, an affidavit of nonmilitary service, certifying the other parent is not on active duty in the U.S. military, as well as a summons, which officially alerts the other parent that a custody case has started.

Types of Custody

When you fill out your petition for custody, you will need to explain why you should have both sole legal custody and primary physical placement. These are two separate legal concepts, but closely related for purposes of determining the best custody arrangement for your child. Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions for a child, including where he will attend to school, his religious upbringing and anything pertaining to medical treatment. Physical placement is a term that refers to the actual location where the child will live. As the parent with sole physical placement, you are responsible for your child's daily care and routine.

When a Custody Order Already Exists

To file for full custody if there is an existing custody order in place, you should file Wisconsin form FA-4170V, which is a motion to change custody. You must clearly identify that you are seeking sole legal custody and primary physical placement, as well as facts to support the assertion that the arrangement would be in the child’s best interests. You must serve the other parent with the motion at least five days before the hearing, giving her the opportunity to attend the hearing and present her side.

Best Interests Standards

The circuit court judge will consider all pleadings regarding custody in light of the child’s best interests. This standard is set forth in the Wisconsin Code and lists 16 factors the court must consider when making a custody decision. If you are seeking full, sole custody, the court will heavily consider the effect this arrangement will have on the child as he will not have the other parent in their life outside of scheduled visitation. Some factors considered include the wishes of both parents, the wishes of the child if he is age appropriate, the child’s relationship with his parents, the child’s adjustment to his home and school, the mental and physical health of all parties, a history of violence or crime, evidence of drug or alcohol abuse by any party and the stability of your home and other residents living with you.