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Wisconsin Court Orders that Father Has Sole Decision-Making Authority As to Education

In a recent appellate decision, a wife appealed the Wisconsin divorce judge’s provisions related to child custody, placement and property distribution. She argued that the lower court had improperly used its discretion in awarding sole legal custody to the father with regard to educational decisions, made a prospective child physical placement decision, divided the value of the marital home, and refused to award her half of his possible future military pension payments.

The couple was married in 2012 and lived together in a home bought by the father 6 years prior to the marriage. The couple had a child born in 2012. Once she decided to divorce the mother relocated to Kentucky. Meanwhile, the father kept his residence in Wisconsin and deployed as a member of the Air Forces Reserve.

The father sued for divorce. The court awarded the parties joint legal custody of the child, except that the father was given impasse authority over the child’s education decisions, under which he was entitled to a final decision on educational decisions if the parties couldn’t agree on those decisions. The court ordered that the couple would have equal physical placement of their child until the child was going to start kindergarten. The court ordered that at that point, the father would have primary physical placement for the school year. A holiday schedule alternating between parents was also created.

The marital property was equally divided, but the court decided the father should receive the premarital value of assets he’d brought into the marriage. The court equally divided the difference in value of the marital home from the start of the marriage to the divorce date, but didn’t include the reduction in mortgage balance during that period. The court decided not to divide the marital part of the military pension.

The mother appealed. Under Wisconsin Statute § 767.41 (2015-16), the court is empowered to make custody and placement decisions of minor children that it considers just and reasonable. The mother claimed that giving the father impasse authority over educational decisions for the child is the same as awarding the father sole legal custody on this issue and that to do this, the court should have made particular findings under Wisconsin Statute section 767.41(2)(b)2.

The appellate court disagreed. It explained that the court could give one parent sole power to make certain decisions even as the parties had equal rights and obligations for other decisions. Giving the father sole power to make educational decisions didn’t amount to sole legal custody. Therefore the court didn’t need to make the finding required by §767.41(2)(b)2.

A licensed psychologist provided an opinion that giving the father the final decision-making authority about the child’s education was in the best interests of the child. The decision also made practical sense, since the child was living with the father during the school year. Because of the psychologist’s opinion, the appellate court found that the lower court had reasonably exercised its discretion to give him impasse authority over educational decisions.

For these and other reasons the judgment was affirmed.

At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our Milwaukee child custody attorneys can help you evaluate whether you may need a modification to child support in light of recent changes in your life and, if so, how to best accomplish that.  To speak with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer today, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.

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