If you need advice that is confidential and sensitive to your particular needs, our firm will be here for you in the following family law areas:
- Divorce and Legal Separation
- Child Custody and Placement
- Child Support
- Alimony and Maintenance
- Marital Property Division
- Other Divorce and Custody Issues
- A Divorce Road Map
Divorce and Legal Separation
A divorce or legal separation is one of the most difficult experiences a person goes through in a lifetime. Divorce is a process, not an event. Our firm is here for you if you need advice or representation that is confidential and sensitive to your situation.
Child Custody and Placement
When you and the other parent of your child(ren) cannot agree on parenting issues, our firm provides thorough and aggressive representation tailored to your particular situation. Our firm understands the legal issues related to custody (decision making), and placement (which parent the child is living with, also called visitation), and is here to represent your needs.
A judge may require one parent to pay the other parent in the form of child support. If your goal is to increase, decrease, end, or enforce child support, our firm has the experience to provide thorough, accurate, complete, and aggressive representation in protecting your rights.
Alimony and Maintenance
If you are going through a divorce, you or your spouse may be entitled to limited or indefinite maintenance (formerly called alimony). Maintenance is a court order that often involves a wage assignment. Our firm has the experience to protect your rights if you are entitled to receive or are forced to pay maintenance.
Marital Property Division
Wisconsin is one of a handful of marital property (also called community property) states; in the event of a divorce or legal separation, it is presumed that the court will equally divide all assets and debts acquired during the marriage. If you are going through a divorce, our firm has the experience to advise and represent you regarding rights and protections under Wisconsin’s Marital Property Act.
Unless you are married, a number of legal challenges can arise between parents with a child. If you are a mother seeking child support, or a father who wants to enforce his placement and visitation rights, our firm has the experience to provide complete and aggressive representation in enforcing your parental rights.
Other Divorce and Custody Issues
Our firm has the experience to assist, advise and represent you in the following additional areas of the law
- Changing Your Name
- Contempt of Court
- Child Abuse
- Domestic Violence
- Foster Care
- Genetic testing
- Grandparent Rights
- Juvenile Crime
- Minor Emancipation
- Modifying a Court Order
- Moving Children
- Same-Sex Couples
- Termination of Parental Rights
A Divorce Roadmap
What To Expect In Your Divorce:
A divorce begins with the filing of a Summons and Petition for Divorce with the court, along with serving the other party. By law, you must wait 120 days from the time the papers have been served before you can be divorced. During that 120 days, information will be gathered, efforts to reach settlement will be made, and your case will be prepared for trial, if necessary.
Temporary Order Hearing:
The purpose of a temporary hearing is to establish a court order setting out the financial, parenting, and behavioral rules while the divorce is pending. A temporary order may be modified and is not necessarily the same order a court may make at the end of the divorce proceeding.
A Family Court Commissioner can enter a temporary support order, award possession of certain items of personal property to one of the parties, assign responsibility for payment of debts, and may make provisions for custody and placement of the children.
In some cases a temporary hearing and order are not needed because the parties can agree upon a temporary arrangement and reach a stipulation, which is a written agreement of the parties that is then approved by the court, making it an order. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the Family Court Commissioner will hear evidence and issue a temporary order.
Mediation of Custody Disputes:
If there are child-related parenting issues the parties cannot resolve themselves, the parties will be court-ordered into mediation. A mediator is a professional skilled in dispute resolution who will assist the parties in reaching an agreement regarding custody and placement of the children, if possible. Mediation is a confidential, cooperative process, and it is often successful in resolving parenting disputes.
If mediation is unsuccessful in resolving important issues regarding the children such as where they will live, then the court appoints a guardian ad litem (GAL), who is always an attorney. He or she interviews both parents to learn their positions on custody and placement, along with the possibility of interviewing third parties, such as teachers and babysitters. The GAL ultimately makes a recommendation to the court as to what placement and custody arrangements are in the children’s best interests. Oftentimes, the GAL will share a preliminary recommendation with the parties to enable them to settle the dispute prior to trial.
Psychological evaluations of the parties, and at times the children, may be recommended if there are mental health concerns or a history of substance abuse problems. In this event, the psychologist may also recommend the custody and placement of the children. Although these recommendations are important, the ultimate decision always rests with the judge.
During the period between filing and the finalized divorce, the attorneys gather information needed for the property division by what is known as “discovery”, with the purpose of locating and obtaining the information needed to help put values on various assets (and debts). The value always used for divorce purposes is “fair market value”, which is what a willing buyer, in an arm’s length transaction, would pay for an asset. For example, the family home may be appraised to determine its fair market value, or what it would likely sell for.
Retirement assets such as pensions, 401(k)s, and profit sharing plans also can be valued; items such as the cash value in life insurance policies and the amount of debts will be verified. Property should be valued as of the date of the divorce, updates of this nature will be conducted at the conclusion of the case. The parties will then complete a Financial Disclosure Statement and share that information with each other.
Most cases are resolved through negotiation. Settlements are usually preferable to litigating a case before the judge, but are generally not reached unless there is compromise on the part of each party. Negotiation is a give and take process. It is always your case, and while we will provide our best legal advice, any settlement is ultimately your decision. It is important to keep in mind the cost of arguing compared to the value or importance of the issue as you proceed in this process.
Sometimes cases simply cannot be settled. In this event, your case is presented to the judge for decision. You will testify, as will your spouse, and additional experts also may testify if there are valuation issues, or if an accountant’s testimony would be helpful to the court on support issues. If custody and placement issues remain unresolved, teachers and babysitters may provide additional helpful information to the court.
Divorce issues are not always clear cut. Clients often want to know how a judge will decide a certain issue, but it is difficult to predict how persuaded a judge will be by either side. However, our firm’s experience enables us to give an idea of the history of a judge’s rulings. We understand this can be frustrating and we appreicate that; the one definite thing you can expect in a divorce process is the unexpected.
Final Hearing or Trial:
If your case can be negotiated to agreement, it will be reduced to a written document known as a Marital Settlement Agreement. This document will contain all the terms and conditions of your agreement, in addition to reciting various legal provisions required by law, in which you will be asked to sign.
If you have a Marital Settlement Agreement, and the 120 days have expired, you can more quickly proceed to court for a “default” (i.e., uncontested or “agreed upon”) divorce. In this event, the actual divorce hearing takes approximately 20 minutes. The petitioning party testifies to verify the factual matters in the divorce petition, such as residency, the date of the marriage, and other matters, as well as being asked to state whether or not he or she believes the marriage is irretrievably broken.
The woman, in every divorce and regardless of her age, will be asked whether she is pregnant because the court must ensure that there are no children “on the way” to be provided for in the parties’ Judgment of Divorce. Within the divorce judgment, the woman also has the opportunity to take back her maiden name, if so desired.
After the petitioning party takes the stand, the responding party will testify. Likewise, the responding party will be asked if he or she believes the marriage is irretrievably broken. Both parties will be asked if they have filed their Financial Disclosure Statements and fully and fairly disclosed all income, assets, and liabilities. If a Marital Settlement Agreement has been reached, each of the parties will be asked whether they understand all terms and believe the Agreement is fair and reasonable.
It can be stressful to be on the witness stand. You may bring a friend or relative to court with you if this assists in providing emotional support. Courtrooms are public places, and there may be other people sitting in the courtroom waiting for their cases to be called during your contested or uncontested hearing.
Once the parties have testified, the judge reviews the Marital Settlement Agreement and approves it, granting the parties a divorce, effective immediately. The judge will also inform each party that he or she is not free to remarry for the next six months.
Sometimes there are issues regarding gifted or inherited property which, subject to certain rules, is exempt property from the marital estate. Unfortunately, the issue can arise as to whether something was truly “gifted” or not.
Once your case has been resolved, there are often some “housekeeping matters” to be completed. A Judgment of Divorce is prepared, either incorporating the Marital Settlement Agreement, or the terms of the judge’s decision. Deeds may be needed for the transfer of property, or orders (called QDROs) needed to divide retirement benefits. Other matters including health insurance plan conversions, car title transfers, new will executions, and Powers of Attorney for finances and healthcare establishments may need to be attended to after the divorce is finalized. We will use our experience to work with you to ensure the divorce provisions are carried out.
This information is intended to be viewed as general information. Your individual situation or needs require consultation with the advice of an attorney. We are here to help you today.