Child Custody and Moving with a Child (UCCJEA)

 

Due to the high mobility of our society, it is relatively easy for people to move from from one place to another. Sometimes, this move requires a relocation to another state. An important consideration for those contemplating a move is, how might this affect your family law case? If you have a case involving custody or placement/visitation, it is important to consider how moving with a child may impact which jurisdiction is appropriate for modifying and enforcing custody and placement/visitation. Far too often, parents living in different states will attempt to modify or enforce a child custody order without considering that only one court can have jurisdiction to issue a decision. If mom lives in Florida, and dad lives in Washington, which court has the right to render a decision? What if the original order was issued in Wisconsin, but nobody lives there any longer?

To provide clarity with how all 50 states should determine jurisdiction in child custody cases, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws implemented the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Although not all states have adopted the UCCJEA, more than 30 states have enacted their own versions of the UCCJEA. In effect, the UCCJEA specifies which court should decide a child custody case when there is a dispute between two or more jurisdictions.

Before launching into a hypothetical to dissect the UCCJEA a bit further, wewill explain some terms frequently referred to in the UCCJEA which you may not be familiar with. First and foremost is the term “jurisdiction”. What is jurisdiction? In essence, jurisdiction is the power and authority for an entity to make legal decisions and judgments. In the context of the UCCJEA, we are discussing which court has jurisdiction over a child custody matter. Next is the term “home state”. A home state is the state where the child lived with a parent or person acting as a parent for at least 6 months immediately before the custody action was filed. The home state is important, because the UCCJEA directs courts to heavily prioritize home state jurisdiction above other jurisdictional considerations.

When analyzing the UCCJEA and applying it to your case, you may need to ask yourself – what is it I’m trying to do? Are you trying to modify the current orders, or are you trying to enforce them? It may be that you don’t even have the initial orders yet, which means there is nothing to modify or enforce. If this is the case, then you should consult with a family law attorney to determine how, when, and where the initial orders should be decided.

Since most individuals trying to tackle UCCJEA-related issues already have the initial orders,we will focus a hypothetical on modification and enforcement. For those unfamiliar with those terms, “modification” refers to an attempt to change the current orders. “Enforcement” refers to an attempt to enforce, or carry out the current orders without necessarily changing them.

For our hypothetical, let’s say that we have two parents, Harry and Susan, who were divorced in Wisconsin. Harry and Susan had a daughter, and through the divorce the Wisconsin court granted them joint custody and a 50/50 shared equal placement schedule. Two years after the divorce, Susan moves from Wisconsin to New York for a new job, leaving their daughter with Harry. Since Susan lives in New York, and Harry lives in Wisconsin, it is not feasible for them to observe their 50/50 shared equal placement schedule due to the distance. Shortly after she moves, Susan and Harry   begin arguing over where their daughter should live. Eight months after moving to New York, Susan files a modification with a New York court, trying to modify their prior placement order so that she gets 70% of the placement and Harry gets 30%. Harry, not agreeing with Susan’s proposed modification, files his own modification in Wisconsin requesting that he get 70% of the placement and Susan gets 30%. The question is – which court has the authority to make the modification, New York or Wisconsin?

To answer this question, we have to consider several factors. Amongst these factors are (1) who still lives in Wisconsin, (2) where were the most recent orders issued, (3) does the childstill have a “significant” connection with Wisconsin, (4) where is the relevant evidence in the case available, and (5) has there been a waiver of jurisdiction by any courts?

(1) Who still lives in Wisconsin? In our hypothetical, Harry and their daughter still live in Wisconsin. This is the first and possibly the most crucial component to determining which state has jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.

Alternatively, if nobody lived in Wisconsin when Susan filed her modification in New York, it is likely that Wisconsin has lost its exclusive, continuing jurisdiction to modify the order and it’s possible that New York may be the correct jurisdiction for litigating the modification. Or, it would be just as possible that another state has jurisdiction, depending on where the child has been residing.

(2) Where were the most recent orders issued? In our hypothetical, the most recent order was issued in Wisconsin through the divorce. This increases the likelihood that Wisconsin is the correct jurisdiction, because a Wisconsin court issued the last order.

Alternatively, if a Wisconsin court is not the most recent to issue an order, whether or not it is the correct jurisdiction for Harry and Susan’s modification depends on why they were not the most recent court to issue an order.

(3) Does the child still have a “significant” connection with Wisconsin? Since Harry and their daughter still live in Wisconsin, it is presumed that they have a significant connection with Wisconsin through their residency. As such, Wisconsin is likely the proper jurisdiction to hear the modification.

(4) Where is the relevant evidence in the case available? Often, evidence is a crucial factor in determining the outcome. In the family law context, relevant evidence for a modification of placement may include testimony from the child’s doctors, teachers, coaches, childcare providers, or other family members. Although this is not the most important factor in determining the correct jurisdiction, it is a consideration. In our hypothetical, Harry and Susan’s daughter has never lived in any state other than Wisconsin. It is highly likely that relevant evidence will be more readily available in Wisconsin than in New York. These facts support the idea that Wisconsin is the appropriate jurisdiction.

(5) Has there been a waiver of jurisdiction by any courts? Sometimes, a court may determine that it no longer has jurisdiction to hear a matter. Often, this is because none of the parties live in that jurisdiction any longer, and thus their connection with the jurisdiction has been severed. In our hypothetical, the Wisconsin court has not yet waived its jurisdiction. As such, Wisconsin is the proper jurisdiction to hear Harry’s modification.

Due to the facts of the hypothetical, it is likely that Wisconsin retains jurisdiction over the matter, and Harry’s modification filed in Wisconsin will proceed in front of a Wisconsin court. Susan’s modification filed in New York would then be denied for a lack of jurisdiction. Despite this result, it is possible that the New York court may still want to hold one or more hearings on Susan’s modification while jurisdiction is being determined.

Cases where parents live in separate states are complicated for various reasons, and UCCJEA related issues are highly complex and fact specific. If you or a loved one are experiencing legal issues related to the UCCJEA, contact our experienced legal team here at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC at (414) 258-1644 for a free consultation.

 

What Are The Benefits Of Divorce Mediation?

 

Going through divorce can be a complicated, stressful, and costly process. Some couples, however, choose to work with a third-party neutral to help resolve disputes, alleviate stress, and reduce the expense of court litigation. This process is called divorce mediation. Many couples who choose to resolve their divorce differences through divorce mediation find the process to be empowering. Divorce mediation is an alternative form of dispute resolution that allows divorcing spouses to retain a strong voice in the outcome of their divorce settlement by agreeing in advance to attempt to resolve all issues in their divorce outside of court and with the assistance of a neutral divorce mediator.

Potential issues that may be resolved through divorce mediation are not confined to a specific area. A qualified, certified neutral divorce mediator can guide couples toward resolving complex issues related to:

  • Property division, including real estate, retirement accounts, other assets, and debts
  • Child custody and placement
  • Child support
  • Spousal maintenance
  • All other divorce related topics

The mediator in a divorce acts as a third-party neutral who works to facilitate discussions to resolve disputes involving any aspect of the divorce. Moreover, an experienced family law practitioner who is a certified divorce mediator and serves as a neutral in the case who can provide the parties with knowledgeable education and guidance concerning all of the available options to resolve a particular issue. This educational prong of the mediation process can help the parties to explore personalized solutions that best serve their individual goals and needs, rather than focusing on an all or nothing fight in court. It is important to understand that the mediator does not act as judge, seeking to impose a final decision to resolve disputes, nor can the divorce mediator provide legal advice. The mediator is a neutral in the case who works to facilitate reasoned discussions between the parties to arrive at workable and mutually satisfying solutions to disputes.

As of 2018, under Wisconsin law, your divorce mediator may now draft all of the documents to memorialize the final mediated settlement and the pleadings necessary in your divorce case.  In other words, from start to finish, a divorce mediator can assist you with facilitating your divorce through the court system. While the mediator does not represent either side, in preparing the legal paperwork, your divorce mediator can give you peace of mind that the documents are complete and follow Wisconsin law to reduce the potential for additional disputes down the road.

Avoiding litigation may reduce stress and higher costs of divorce

Mediation provides a range of important benefits that are not achieved through a long battle in court, such as:

  • More control over the outcome of the divorce
  • Reduced costs from the absence of litigation
  • Reduced stress through the elimination of litigation and contested hearings
  • A concurrent positive experience for the children of divorcing parents

Attorney Alison Krueger of Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC is a Certified Divorce Mediator. She can educate you and your spouse about the options to resolve your divorce disputes and the legal process to be divorced. Moreover, after you and your spouse have reached a settlement through mediation, Attorney Krueger can draft all of the documents to memorialize the final mediated settlement and the necessary legal documents to begin and end your divorce action through the court system. Properly prepared  legal paperwork with the assistance of a certified divorce mediator can give you peace of mind that the documents are complete and follow Wisconsin law to reduce the potential for additional disputes down the road. Moreover, Attorney Krueger can help you and your spouse prepare for court where a judge will finalize your divorce. This education on the process can help you to move forward with knowledge of what to expect, alleviating the stress of the unknown.

 

Lawyer Reviews – Reader Beware!

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!”  Clearly, William Shakespeare was not in the midst of an ugly divorce or custody battle when he wrote those immortal words.  Had Will actually needed a divorce or custody lawyer, instead of killing them, he would have done an internet search on family lawyers and carefully read all of the reviews before considering which lawyer was represent his rights in court.

Everyone hopes that they can share the opinions of William Shakespeare and never need the assistance and guidance of a family lawyer.  What do you do however, when the unexpected happens and you are in need of someone who is going to fight for you and more importantly your children?  The decision to hire a lawyer can be one of the most impactful decisions of your life.  It is imperative that you find the best fit for you.   A savvy consumer will research websites, consider experience and read reviews.  When you read the reviews, however, you need to consider if you are reading an actual client review of an attorney or if you are reading a story of defeat, retaliation or just plain vengeance. Some clients will turn to the internet to share their opinions of the legal process and their respective attorneys.  However, many times, reviews that are written, are written by opposing parties who left the process scorn and need to seek vengeance on the attorney that made the legal process so unpleasant.

When you read a negative review, consider the author.  Is the author actually a client of the attorney?  If, in reading the negative review, it is obvious that the author is the opposing party then consider why the opposing party took the time and energy to write a negative review of the other attorney.  Sometimes the best compliment of an attorney doing his or her job comes from the other side leaving the courtroom upset.

If the negative review is written by a client, read and consider the other reviews.  Does the negative review conform to what others are saying or is the negative a review a stand alone?  There are times when a client wants a lawyer to take a position contrary her advice.  When that happens, an ethical lawyer will withdraw from the case, likely leaving the client upset.  Is the negative review written by a client who is upset that the attorney did not do what he wanted her to do?  Or, perhaps the client is upset at the amount of fees which were charged.  However, that could have been due to circumstances beyond the lawyer’s control such as a difficult client or difficult opposing counsel.  Some clients are upset at the situation itself but the lawyer is the handy target to blame.

Most people do not realize that ethical rule prohibit lawyers from responding in detail to a negative review.  Always keep in mind the old adage, there are two sides to every story.  There have been times when an attorney reads a negative review and literally screams at her computer screen, “that is not what happened at all!”  The reader of that negative review will never know the “other side” because the ethical lawyer is prohibited from sharing any details that could even remotely violate the attorney client privilege.   A savvy reader of lawyer reviews will consider the fact that there is an explanation (or even correction) to the negative review, that that explanation will never be known by the reader.

Make sure that you read all the reviews from all sources.  A client may review an attorney on AVVO, but not on Google.  Make sure that you research several review platforms (Google, Yahoo, AVVO, Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc.) to obtain a full picture of what clients are saying about your potential lawyer.  While reviews are pivotally important, you must also consider experience.  The more experienced the lawyer, the more likely he is to have a negative review or two.  It is simply the law of averages.  Do not let a negative review deter you from scheduling a consultation.   If reading a negative review gives you pause, ask the lawyer about it in your consultation.  For instance, if a negative review indicates that the lawyer was unresponsive, ask the lawyer, “what is your policy for returning phone calls and emails?”  If after reading a review, you have concerns about a lawyer being unnecessarily litigious, ask the lawyer what her policy is on settlement.

In summary, it is imperative to read attorney reviews prior to selecting an attorney.  However, it is just as important to be smart about what you read and consider the author.  Finally, never let a review stop you from consulting with a lawyer that you feel will be a good fit.  You can judge for yourself after that meeting whether you are comfortable with the lawyer after listening to what he or she has to say.

 

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN SOMEONE IS NOT FOLLOWING THE COURT ORDER IN A FAMILY ACTION

When you obtain a court order after months of litigation, sleepless nights and mountains of attorney bills, you expect that this court order will be followed.  However, what happens when your former spouse or the other parent in your matter does not follow the court order?  What are your remedies and what can you expect to happen?

If you are faced with a situation where a party is not following a court order, you may be able to file a motion to have him or her found in “contempt”.  Contempt is a legal term which means that a person is deliberately and intentionally not following a court order.  The remedy for a contempt can range from financial sanctions, jail time and attorney fees.

At the contempt hearing it is important that you have evidence supporting your claim for contempt.  For instance, if you file a contempt motion because the other parent has not reimbursed you for half of the kid’s expenses, the court is going to want to have evidence that 1) the expenses was actually incurred 2) you presented the expense and the receipt and 3) he or she refused to pay.  In this circumstance, if you file a contempt, but do not have evidence that you provided the expenses request (email, certified mail or Our Family Wizard confirmation)  the court will be unable to find that the other parent acted intentionally in not paying you.  Accordingly, he or she will not be found in contempt.    Conversely, if you have documentation of emails, letters or the like requesting reimbursement and the other parent simply refuses it is likely the court will find him or her in contempt.   A person can be found in contempt for failure to follow any court order and the evidence required to support your client will vary.  It is crucial for the success of your claim that you have all the supporting documentation before you file.

If you are successful at a contempt hearing and the court finds the other party in contempt, he or she must be granted a purge.  A purge is a set of conditions that need to be complied with in order to avoid jail time. If a purge is not met, then the other party will have to serve the jail sentence ordered at the contempt hearing.  If the purge is met, then the reason for the contempt has been alleviated and the issue is considered resolved.

Attorney fees may be awarded if you are successful with your motion.  The amount of attorney fees awarded will vary depending on the circumstances of each case, the severity of the contempt and the amount of financial damage the contempt cost you.  It is also possible that you will not receive attorney fees despite the court finding the other party in contempt.  Contempt motions can be very detailed and require evidentiary hearings.  However, it is important that you do not tolerate the non-compliance of a court order.  Meet with an attorney to discuss your options.  At Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, we will meet with you to discuss your case and help you evaluate your options so you can determine the best course of action.  Call us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation or visit our website at http://www.nkmfamilylaw.com.

Handling The Holidays When Parents Have Family Law Issues

We have addressed this topic in our blog several times before. However, as the holidays are approaching again, we believe that it is an extremely relevant and important topic which deserves additional attention.

Managing holiday schedules can be cumbersome for any parent. When parents of minor children are facing family law issues or divorce, scheduling family gatherings during the holidays is often more complicated. In divorce, courts focus on the best interests of the children to determine child custody and placement matters. It may be difficult for parents who are at odds with each other to apply that standard in the way that courts do during a contentious divorce. Focusing on the children, however, in making holiday arrangements, instead of focusing on parental disputes, may provide a positive framework for easing strains in scheduling holiday events. Here are some tips parents may use to help keep the peace during the holidays:

Plan ahead – with communication

It is important to make arrangements well in advance of the holidays, while communicating the details with the other parent. Leaving sufficient time to work out disputes, possibly with the help of a lawyer, can help to avoid unwanted consequences. Realize that your attorney may have his or her own family obligations during the holidays. Waiting to the last minute to discuss arrangements with the other parent is likely to produce conflict which cannot be easily resolved.

Follow any court ordered parenting time schedules

While circumstances may change as the holidays approach, any court ordered placement plan should be followed in absence of an alternative agreement. If disputes or deviations from the plan unexpectedly arise, makes notes about what happened to have a record to accurately explain the facts to your lawyer when the holidays are over.

Avoid badmouthing the other parent

Badmouthing the other parent, or allowing the children to speak poorly about the other parent, should always be avoided. Be mindful of the fact that your child will have a continuing relationship with  the other parent. Moreover, your child should not be placed in the middle of your dispute with the other parent. It is important to understand that your child may miss the other parent, and other extended family members, when separated during a holiday. You should support your child during a difficult time. Allowing the child time to connect with the other parent over the phone or through other electronic means can ease tensions.

Keeping positive sends a strong message to children

Spend your parenting time positively with your child to foster a loving environment. Focusing on your child and remaining positive during the holidays can help you to create new memories that your children will cherish.

If you are considering filing for divorce, or expect your spouse to file after the holidays are over, it may be prudent to seek guidance. If you have any questions regarding your family law matter, please contact our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation.

Sara’s Law: A Law Intended to Protect Family Law Attorneys in Wisconsin

Family law is a unique area of law, often accompanied by an overabundance of emotions. Strong emotions typically tie in with family matters such as divorce, child custody and placement issues, and maintaining the co-parenting relationship for divorced or separated parents. It is not surprising that there are certain risks inherent with the officers of the court (attorneys, judges, guardian ad litems, etc.) involved in family law matters.

A tragic example is the story of Sara Quirt Sann, a Schofield, Wisconsin family law attorney. Quirt Sann, along with three other individuals (Everest Metro Police Detective Jason Weiland and Marathon Savings Bank employees Dianne Look and Karen Barclay) were killed on March 22, 2017 when Nengmy Vang carried out a violent attack on Quirt Sann’s office. Quirt Sann had been representing Vang’s wife in a divorce.

Quirt Sann’s story prompted the drafting of Wisconsin Act 272, colloquially referred to as “Sara’s Law” in memory of Quirt Sann. Sara’s Law was enacted on April 11, 2018 and makes it a Class H felony in the state of Wisconsin to harm or threaten to harm a current or former guardian ad litem, corporation counsel, attorney, or any of their family. Sara’s Law further specifies that the harm or threat of harm is in response to an action taken during a proceeding or other action that affects the family (i.e. a “family law” proceeding). Until Sara’s Law, threats made against family lawyers were not treated the same as judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers.

If a person is convicted under Sara’s Law, it would mean they are guilty of a Class H felony, which could result in the mandatory surrendering of weapons, a $10,000 fine, and up to six years in prison.

Sara’s Law is the first of its kind in the United States, and could prove to be indicative of a trend in American law to recognize and address the intrinsic risks with practicing an area of law so wrought with emotion. The attorneys at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC are sensitive to the psychological and emotional tolls of family law, and are skilled in navigating these difficult matters. Should you have any family law related questions, please feel free to contact our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free ½ hour consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.  Or, for more information, visit our website at http://www.nkmfamilylaw.com.

 

 

New Wisconsin Statute Changes Procedures to Move a Child’s Residence

Governor Walker recently signed into law a Bill that changes the procedures that parents must follow in order to move or relocate with a child when both parents are granted any periods of physical placement. This change went into effect April 5, 2018, and affects any new actions, filed with the Court, requesting to move with a child. The new statute, Section 767.481, Wisconsin Stats., applies to cases that are originally commenced on or after April 5, 2018, or cases in which legal custody or physical placement order is modified on or after April 5, 2018. However, it is still somewhat unclear as to which cases this new statute applies to, and to which cases the previous statute still applies.

The previous move or relocation statute required that a parent seeking to move more than 150 miles or out of state to follow strict guidelines to provide notice to the non-moving parent of the intended move. The new statute requires that a parent seeking to move more than 100 miles from the other parent, regardless of whether or not that move includes crossing state lines, must file a motion with the court and include the following relocation plan:

  1. The date of the proposed relocation.
  2. The municipality and state of the proposed new residence.
  3. The reason for the relocation.
  4. If applicable, a proposed new placement schedule, including placement during the school year, summers, and holidays.
  5. The proposed responsibility and allocation of costs for each parent for transportation of the child between the parties under any proposed new placement schedule.

The new law also outlines how the parent not requesting a move must object to the move, which must be filed no less than 5 days before the initial court hearing. Also, parents are not required to file a motion if the parents already live more than 100 miles apart, however there are provisions requiring written notice in the event of a proposed moved.

The parties will attend an initial hearing within 30 days of the motion regarding the proposed move.  The Court will make a determination as to whether the proposed move is in the best interest of the child, or not. There are certain requirements outlined in the statute for the objecting parent to comply with such as the court may refer the parties to mediation, appoint a guardian ad litem, or set the matter for a further hearing to be held within 60 days of the initial hearing. The court can also temporarily allow the party child to move. The statute also outlines factors that the court shall consider in making a final decision to allow the child to move with the relocating parent at the final hearing.

This new relocation statute has a far reaching effect on how the court will now approach a parent’s request to relocate with minor child.  It is now even more difficult to move with a child out of state.  It is also unclear as to how the courts will interpret this new statute. These new requirements may have a direct effect on whether you, or your child’s other parent may move more than 100 miles away. If you are considering moving your residence with your child’s or believe that your spouse intends to move with your minor child, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.