2017 Wisconsin Act 203 (Act 203) changes the procedures parents must follow to move or relocate with a child when both parents are granted any periods of physical placement.
Lisa-Marie Line, Marquette 2005, is assistant corporation counsel with Rock County, where she works on cases involving child protective services, guardianship, and termination of parental rights.
The new statute, Wis. Stat. section 767.481, applies to cases commenced on or after April 5, 2018, or cases in which legal custody or physical placement order is modified on or after April 5, 2018.
The Relocation Motion
The previous move or relocation statute required that a parent seeking to move more than 150 miles or out of state to provide 60 days advance written notice of the intention to move – both to the other parent and to the court, by certified mail and allowed for an objection period.
The new statute requires that a parent seeking to move more than 100 miles from the other parent (whether or not that move is within or out of state) must file a motion with the court.
The motion shall include several things:
- a relocation plan including the date of the proposed relocation
- the municipality and state of the proposed new residence
- the reason for the relocation, if applicable
- a proposed new placement schedule including placement during the school year, summers, and holidays, and
- the proposed responsibility and allocation of costs for each parent for transportation of the child between the parties under any proposed new placement schedule.
The Relocation Objection
The other parent must object to the move and file the objection to the relocation and any alternate proposal no less than five days before the initial court hearing.
Within 30 days of the motion, the court shall set an initial hearing.
If the parent not filing the motion appears at the initial hearing and objects to the relocation plan, the court may refer to the parties to mediation, appoint a guardian ad litem for the child (if mediation is not successful), or set the matter for a further hearing to be within 60 days of the initial hearing. The court can temporarily allow the party child to move.
Decision Factors and Presumptions
The statute outlines several factors that the court shall consider in making a final decision to allow the child to move with the relocating parent at the final hearing.
The standard for deciding all contested relocation motions remains the best interest of the child. In addition, the court will still consider each of the custody and placement factors under Wis. Stat. section 767.41(5).
However, under the new statute, the court shall approve the proposed relocation if it only minimally changes or affects the current placement schedule or does not affect or change the current placement schedule.
There is a presumption that the court should approve the plan of the parenting proposing the relocation if the court determines that the objecting parent has not significantly exercised placement.
The movant bears the burden of proof in a contested relocation motion. If the presumption to approve the plan exists, then the parent objecting to the relocation shall have the burden of proof in demonstrating proposed relocation is not in the child’s best interest.
For a family law perspective on this topic, see Tiffany Highstrom’s Family Law Blog article, 2017 Wisconsin Act 203 and Changes to Post-divorce Relocation Standards.