As a family lawyer, I often receive calls from parents wondering under what circumstances they can deny placement of the children to the other parent. Wisconsin law specifically prohibits intentionally and unreasonably denying or interfering with a parent’s placement. The penalties for violating this rule are fairly severe, including awarding “make-up time,” attorneys’ fees, contempt of court, and an injunction that could lead to criminal penalties. Withholding placement from a parent can also be considered a felony in some instances. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. The consequences usually turn on whether the withholding parent’s decision was reasonable. That ruling is up to the judge, and what is reasonable depends on the circumstances. Legitimate allegations of mistreatment are probably more reasonable than withholding placement because a child is sleeping or not feeling well, for example. But parents should be cautioned that cases are very much dependent on the surrounding circumstances and their credibility.
Given the serious consequences, parents should consult with an experienced attorney, if at all possible, prior to making a decision to withhold a child from the other parent. Not only can there be serious legal consequences, but the parental relationship can suffer long-term as well. I am available to consult with parents facing these issues from both perspectives, and encourage thoughtful discussion of the issue.