Difficult Times Demand Experienced Attorneys
Few cases are harder on clients than family law cases. A divorce imposes many different stressors on a client – emotional, financial, physical, and parental. These life-changing events require a lawyer who is experienced, compassionate, and strong.
Our experienced team of family lawyers is well respected for handling the difficult issues surrounding divorce and child custody matters. Our experience ensures that our client’s rights are fully protected, while giving clients the support they need to make the difficult decisions presented by these cases.
We handle all family law matters, including the following:
General Family Law Matters:
- Legal Separation
- Collaborative Divorce
Financial and Property Matters:
- Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
- Property Valuation and division
- Business Valuation
- Maintenance a/k/a alimony
- Family Support
- Child Custody
- Child Placement
- Child Support
- Grandparent and other third-party visitation
- Child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) cases
- Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cases
- Domestic abuse restraining orders (§813.12)
- Child abuse restraining Orders (§813.122)
- Harassment restraining orders (§813.125)
- Guardian ad Litem
Do you have questions about divorce in Wisconsin?
See below for answers to common questions
Divorce is the final, legal ending of your marriage by judgment of a Court. Your marriage is not legally over until a court says so.
A divorce is “uncontested” when, after making a full financial disclosure to each other, the parties reach a full agreement on all issues relating to their finances and children. A divorce is “contested” when the parties cannot reach agreement on all the issues in their divorce and, therefore, must ask the Judge to decide the contested issues. In “contested” cases, a trial is held before a Circuit Court Judge who decides the contested issues after hearing the evidence presented by each side.
An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties reach an agreement, in writing, regarding all the terms and conditions of their divorce. In other words, neither party is “contesting’ anything when they ask the Court for a divorce.
The parties need not agree to divorce. If one party wants a divorce, he/she may start the process and the other spouse may not stop it.
Yes. Parties may enter into a partial or full Marital Settlement Agreement. However, such agreements are not binding until approved by a Court. The agreements must address a multitude of legal issues, including child custody, placement, child support, property division, and debt division. Anything the parties cannot agree upon will be decided by the Court.
A divorce is probably one of the biggest events in your life, especially if you have children. You are not required to have a lawyer, but it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer before making the decision to represent yourself. If you decide to represent yourself, the Clerk of Court has forms you can use. However, the Clerk cannot give you legal advice and those forms do not tell you the legal implications of the blanks you are filling out. There are complicated issues in a divorce that have lasting consequences. Most of what is done at the time of your divorce becomes final and permanent. Therefore, if you make mistakes while representing yourself, you may have to live with those mistakes for the rest of your life.
In Wisconsin, an attorney can only represent one party. However, that does not mean if one party gets an attorney, the other is required to. Your attorney can communicate and negotiate with your spouse, but cannot offer him or her legal advice, and cannot represent his or her interests.
Collaborative divorce is a form of alternative dispute resolution, similar to mediation. Each party hires a lawyer. The role of each lawyer is to attempt to reach a full and final marital settlement agreement. There may be a third lawyer who acts as a facilitator (similar to a mediator). If a final agreement is reached, the agreement is presented to the Court for approval and the divorce is finished. However, if a full and final agreement is not reached, the parties must hire new lawyers to continue their case in Court. This process may save money if an agreement is reached. If an agreement is not reached, it may substantially increase the cost of a divorce.
If you and your spouse have children, and if you do not agree on custody and placement terms for your children, you will be referred to mediation. Mediation regarding children is organized by each county and is mandatory. Mediation can also be used to address other issues in the divorce so that the parties can reach a full and final agreement and thereby avoid a Court trial.
Yes, at least once. If the parties reach a full and final agreement, you will have a stipulated divorce hearing before a Family Court Commissioner or Circuit Court Judge. The hearing usually takes less than 30 minutes, and is required for a Court official to approve the terms of your agreement and officially divorce you. If the parties do not reach a full and final agreement on all the issues, at least one formal court hearing will be required.
A divorce can be filed when you have been a resident of Wisconsin for at least 6 months, and a resident of the County where you are filing the divorce for at least 30 days.
Once a divorce is started, there is a 120-day waiting period before the divorce can be finalized. Most divorces take more than 120 days to resolve, but 120 days is the shortest possible length of a divorce proceeding. While the divorce is pending, a Family Court Commissioner or Circuit Judge will enter a “temporary order” which establishes rules the parties must follow, on a temporary basis, during the pending divorce. These rules address such things as:
- who lives in the house,
- who has custody and placement of the kids,
- who pays the mortgage,
- who gets the car,
- who pays the credit card bills, and
- who pays child support and how much.
Instead of having the Court decide these matters, the parties may enter into a written agreement for a temporary order and ask that it be approved by the Court.
Custody does not address where a child lives on a day-to-day basis, but instead, “custody” refers to the right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding the child, such as the authorization for non-emergency health care, and the choice of school and religion. The determination of child custody is very complicated. It is based upon a number of factors listed in the Statutes and the caselaw interpreting those factors. In determining “custody,” a Court starts from the presumption that custody should be “joint,” meaning, the parties share the ability to make these major decisions, and neither party’s rights are superior. However, the parties may seek to rebut this presumption, and may ask the Court to award sole custody to one parent. Furthermore, parties may reach an agreement as to child custody, but any such agreement is subject to review and approval of the Court. The children may be assigned an attorney (called a “Guardian ad Litem”) who will advocate for the children’s best interests and make a recommendation to the Court regarding custody and placement.
Physical placement addresses where the children live on a day-to-day basis. In the absence of an agreement, the physical placement schedule for each family is based on a number of factors listed in the Statutes and the caselaw interpreting those factors. The amount of time is flexible, and can range from a moderate period of time for one parent, such as every other weekend, to a child dividing his or her time equally between the two parents’ homes. If the parties do not agree on a placement schedule and if mediation does not result in an agreement, an attorney representing the best interests of the children (called a “Guardian ad Litem”) will be appointed by the Court. The Guardian ad Litem makes a recommendation regarding what custody and placement are in the children’s best interest.
The division of debts and assets can be complicated, depending on the nature and extent to the debts and assets, and depending on the debts and assets that each party brought into the marriage. In Wisconsin, the Court begins its analysis by assuming that all debts and assets should be divided equally. It is the burden of each party to prove otherwise. Parties may reach an agreement as to the division of debts and assets, but any such agreement is subject to review and approval of the Court.
The calculation of child support is complicated. In general, the establishment of child support in Wisconsin is determined by the nature and extent of child placement. For example, if one parent has overnight placement 25% of the time or less, that parent will pay a percentage of their gross income for child support as follows:
- 17% of gross income for 1 child
- 25% of gross income for 2 children
- 29% of gross income for 3 children
- 31% of gross income for 4 children
- 34% of gross income for 5 or more children.
If the parties share placement to a greater extent (i.e., each parent receives more than 25% placement) another formula is used that takes into account each parent’s income and the number of overnights of each parent. Of course, there are many other factors which can alter these formulas.
Yes, but only (1) if the children are minors and (2) if the parents cannot agree on custody and placement. In such cases, the Court will appoint a lawyer to act as “Guardian ad Litem,” whose job it is to represent the best interests of the children.
Maintenance (previously called “alimony”) is a payment from one spouse to another spouse, for a term of months or years, to provide financial support. Whether maintenance is appropriate in your case depends on many factors. Some of the most significant factors are the length of the marriage, the difference in earning capacities at the time of divorce, and the age and health of each of each party. Maintenance is not awarded in every case.
In Wisconsin, a party must wait 6 months after the divorce before remarrying. There is no law that restricts when a spouse may start dating, but before you start, you should consider how it may affect your pending divorce.
A paternity case needs to be filed to establish the custody and placement terms for a non-marital child. This is true regardless of whether the father is listed on the birth certificate. In the event a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement (VPA) form was not signed at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, either parent (or the state of Wisconsin via the child support agency) can bring a petition to determine paternity. In the event of a petition alleging paternity, any party may request an order for genetic testing.
The termination of parental rights (TPR) does much more than simply end legal custody, physical placement, and child support. It is a full and final legal severing of the parent/child relationship. In most cases, Judges are unwilling to terminate the parental rights of a parent unless there is an adult eligible and willing to adopt the child. Because the laws regarding termination of parental rights and adoption are complicated and because each circumstance is so unique, consulting with an attorney is recommended before pursuing either of these avenues.
There are 2 kinds of guardianship: guardianship of the estate (i.e., control of a person’s property) and guardianship of the person (i.e., control of a person). Parents are considered the “natural guardians” of their children. Being the “legal” guardian of the person of a minor child means that you step into the shoes of a parent and exercise care, custody, and responsibility for that child. Unless the natural parents agree, the burden is very high on any party petitioning for guardianship. The law in the state of Wisconsin presumes that the natural parents should have the right to the care and custody of their children, absent very specific and compelling circumstances.
There is no such thing as “grandparents rights” in Wisconsin. A grandparent may petition for periods of visitation with their grandchildren. The ability of a grandparent to be granted visitation depends on the marital status of the grandchild’s parents and on whether a parent has died. In Wisconsin, this area of the law is currently in a state of flux, and so consulting with an attorney is recommended.
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