Seal of Dane County County of Dane
Dane County Family Court Services

Legal Custody and Physical Placement Study

The study is a thorough process. The length of the study is related to the complexity of issues in the family. Your timeliness and cooperation will help us complete the study as quickly as possible.

After receiving notification of an unsuccessful mediation from either FCS or a Court Commissioner, the assigned judge will set a status conference. At the status conference, the Court will determine whether a GAL should be appointed and/or a study should be ordered. If the case is to be referred for a study, the judge may choose a full study or a Brief Focused Assessment (BFA), depending on the issues brought forth. If the referral is unclear, the Court Counselor may request clarification from the FCS Director or the assigned judge. These requests will be copied to all parties. If during the course of a BFA the counselor identifies significant concerns outside of the referral, they will promptly inform the judge, who may choose to modify the referral.

When the study is assigned, the initial appointment letters note the date FCS recommendations are due. Counselors will include in their recommendations the dates of the ordered referral and case assignment. Studies are to be completed within 120 days, unless the counselor receives an extension.

The following matters will not be referred for a study: guardianship disputes, contempt and enforcement issues, monitoring of Court Orders, disputes regarding transportation or time and place of transitions, minimal changes to the schedules, vacation and holiday schedules, disputes regarding choice of schools or extracurricular activities, cases in which the parents continue to reside in the same residence, cases in which the parties have jointly retained a private practitioner to conduct a study concerning the pending motion or petition, and cases in which both parents live outside of Dane County.

Recommendations to the Court will be in letter format using statutory criteria as a guideline and should explain the reasons for the recommendation. The counselor will not be expected to prepare any further report.

Inquiries and comments between counselors and judges/commissioners about the merits of a case shall be in writing with copies to all parties. Parties, attorneys, the Guardians ad Litem and FCS counselors may communicate with each other for the purpose of exchanging information and explaining their respective positions regarding the issues involved in the case. All written materials sent by parties and attorneys must be copied by the sender to all other parties and attorneys, with the exception of the Family Study Questionnaire and other initial paperwork sent out by the FCS office. Other substantive information received by the counselor will be available for review in the file. Communication between counselors and outside evaluators should be in writing with copies provided to all parties or orally with all the parties and counsel.

Study Process

  • New Counselor: If you had mediation, a different counselor will be assigned to conduct the study unless the parents choose to keep the same counselor. The new counselor will not talk to the mediator nor read the mediator’s notes.
  • Family Study Questionnaire: The study process will begin with each parenting completing a “Family Study Questionnaire.” This form can be found under the FCS Forms tab.
  • Interviews: Interviews will be conducted with the parents together and individually, unless prohibited. Professionals who have had a relationship with the family (e.g. school teachers, physicians, therapists or the clergy) may be contacted by the counselor.
  • Meeting the Children: Usually the children will be interviewed. A home visit to each parent’s residence may be scheduled. We will ask you fo reference letters from people who know you and your children.
  • Outside Assessments: If necessary, the counselor may direct the parties to have an alcohol/drug abuse assessment from a private practitioner. If you object to this request, you will have 10 days to send a letter to the judge. The judge will decide whether or not to require the assessment. Parents pay for the AODA assessment unless found indigent.
  • Guardian Ad Litem (GAL): The Court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the children. The GAL will be an attorney selected by the Court. A parent (if unrepresented), an attorney, or Family Court Counselor, may request the Court to appoint a GAL. The fees of the GAL are paid by the parties unless both parties are fund to be indigent.

Study Results

Once all steps are completed, the counselor will make recommendations to the parents and the Court. The factors which the counselor must consider are set forth in section 767.41(5) of the Wisconsin Statutes. When you receive recommendations, you will be asked to indicate whether you accept them or reject them.

If during the course of the study process, the parties reach an agreement on the outstanding issues, the counselor will prepare a document reflecting that agreement. The document will be forwarded to the court for review and further order. No waiting period or certification form will accompany the document as is done in mediated agreements.

If agreement is not reached by the parents and a guardian ad litem, a trial will be scheduled by the judge. A trial will be preceded by either a status conference or pretrial conference. At the trial, the judge will listen t the testimony and the evidence in order to make a decision related to the best interest of the child(ren) regarding custody and placement.