Divorce and Family Law
Family law encompasses a range of legal actions that affect your family, whether that is through a divorce, establishing paternity of a child, modifying existing court orders for custody and placement of children, grandparent visitation, or guardianship of a child. Family law can also include matters of domestic violence, pre- or post-nuptial property agreements, and restraining orders. We understand the emotional and financial toll this type of legal action can take on you and your family, and we are committed to provide quality representation that is compassionate, efficient and comprehensive. Whether you need aggressive representation or desire to work cooperatively with the other party, our firm will work with you to resolve the matter in a way which is beneficial to you and your family, both now and in the future.
Far too many times we assist clients who have tried to navigate the legal system on their own, and have found themselves with a final settlement or order that they don't fully understand, is unfair, unworkable or missing important determinations. Trying to fix a "bad" family law order after the fact is much more complicated and expensive, and some orders cannot simply be un-done. Don't let this happen to you. Hire a knowledgeable attorney who can explain your full range of legal options and how to accomplish a satisfactory result in a cost-effective way.
The most common way to legally end a marriage is through a divorce. A divorce typically includes issues of: division of assets and debts, maintenance (commonly referred to as "alimony"), and if there are minor children: child custody and placement (which parent has decision-making authority for the child(ren) and when they spend time with each parent) and child support. We are knowledgeable on the nuances of Wisconsin law and stay abreast of new theories and arguments so that we can provide you with a thorough analysis of your case and candid advice. We also serve as a guardian ad litem for the best interest of the minor child(ren) in family law cases so our experience in that regard is invaluable for custody and placement disputes.
Our family law attorneys also practice collaborative divorce. In a collaborative divorce the parties have agreed not to litigate their disputes. All agree to voluntarily disclose all information relevant and material to the matter and to use good faith efforts in the negotiations to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. In the collaborative divorce process parties must be represented by attorneys and may engage other mental health and financial professionals to assist them in reaching settlements. For additional information you may wish to visit www.collabdivorce.com or call one of our family law attorneys.
We provide comprehensive and experienced divorce representation that addresses all areas of financial and child-related disputes.
Wisconsin has statutory standards and guidelines for setting and modifying child support. However, there are also several arguments that can be made to deviate from the guideline amount in specific circumstances. An experienced family law attorney can recognize when your situation may call for a deviation from the guideline child support amount and help you to decide if that is an argument you should pursue. The calculation of the proper amount of income to be used in calculating child support can also be an appropriate area of negotiation. Without the benefit of an experienced family law attorney to assist you in handling child support with the Court, you may be saddled with an inappropriate child support order that is difficult to modify. We assist with establishing or modifying a child support award, or in defending you from allegations of contempt of court for failure to pay as ordered.
Maintenance is the term in Wisconsin for spousal support, often referred to as alimony. There is a wide range of statutory and case law in Wisconsin governing when, how much and for how long maintenance should be ordered in a divorce. Keep in mind, that if you "waive" your right to maintenance you cannot later ask the court to award it to you, so this decision should not be taken lightly.
If you have a claim for maintenance from your spouse, there are a wide range of options you can also consider to provide for your support, such as: negotiating a larger share of assets, setting forth specific terms for the payments to affect the tax consequences to you and your spouse, getting a lump sum "buy-out" of your claim, or requesting child support and maintenance be paid together as "family support." Maintenance is a very fact-specific analysis that you should entrust to an experienced attorney.
Custody and Placement
Custody refers to which parent has the right to make major decisions for the child(ren), whether one parent gets to make these decisions or both parents are to make them jointly. Joint legal custody is the presumed best option for parents in Wisconsin; however, if domestic abuse or abuse of the child(ren) has occurred during this arrangement sole legal custody to the non-abusive parent is then the expected result. An abusive parent must show specific grounds as to why they should share joint legal custody.
Placement means where and when the child(ren) spend time with each parent. This is a separate determination from custody, such that even if both parents share joint legal custody one parent may have primary placement of the child(ren). Factors to consider in deciding a placement schedule range from who should provide transportation, places to exchange the child(ren), accommodating work and extracurricular schedules, and school districts. If there are serious safety concerns, placement may also be supervised by a third party.
When a child is born to unmarried parents, the mother has sole legal custody and primary placement unless and until a court orders otherwise. Being named on a birth certificate does not provide a father with any legal rights to custody and placement of the child. This is why starting a paternity action through the court is extremely important for unmarried fathers. Living together or being in a committed relationship with the mother does not automatically provide you with any parental rights. A Judgment of Paternity will determine who is the child's legal father, which carries many of the same obligations and rights of custody, placement and support for the child as if the parties were married and divorcing.
Sometimes when a mother receives state benefits, the Child Support Agency in her county will start an action of paternity to establish paternity and a child support award for the child. Ignoring this proceeding, or failing to request genetic testing to confirm paternity, will likely result in a Judgment of Paternity naming the man as the father and ordering him to be responsible for child support until the child reaches majority. Attempting to re-open this determination after the fact is extremely difficult, and the Court has the power to deny genetic testing if it will not be in the child's best interests. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to respond to any legal pleadings attempting to name you as the father of a child. We can help you explore all of your legal options, and analyze how best to obtain parental rights to your child, or challenge allegations of paternity.
If a parent is unable or unwilling to provide care and make custodial decisions for their child(ren), whether temporarily or for an extended period of time, the court can appoint a third party as guardian to do so. A guardianship may also be necessary if one or both parents are deceased, or for same-sex couples who wish to give parallel custodial rights to a non-biological parent. A guardianship does not terminate parental rights, but instead authorizes the guardian to make specific custodial decisions as authorized by the court, such as: consent to medical treatment, release confidential records, choosing medical and social providers, decisions regarding education and vocational placement, etc. This is called a guardian of the person. If the minor has substantial assets or income, the court may also appoint a guardian of the estate to manage the child's finances. This person may or may not be the same as the guardian of the person.
If a grandparent has maintained a close relationship with a child or attempted to and was prevented by the child's parent, and the court finds that it is in that child's best interests to maintain consistent contact with the grandparent, a court may award a specific visitation schedule for the grandparent and the child much like a placement schedule in a divorce action. However, the Court does place special weight on any objections by the child's parents and considers whether the grandparent will likely undermine the parent's decisions for the child's physical, emotional, educational or spiritual welfare.
Visitation for Other Persons
A court may also award reasonable visitation to a third party, like a step-parent, same-sex partner, or other person who has maintained a parent-like relationship with the child if it finds this visitation will be in the child's best interests. Visitation is only available to a third party under this law if there is a "triggering event" like a divorce or paternity action, or an interference with the relationship. Given the specific legal standards and intricate analysis, it is advisable to seek legal counsel when attempting to obtain such visitation.