The Benefit of Hiring a Family Law Attorney

In times of economic downturn, it can appear that hiring an attorney for your divorce or paternity matter is too expensive of an investment. In the Wisconsin, anybody can file a divorce, paternity, or other family law related matter without an attorney. It is an especially attractive idea when the other parent or party in the action appears to agree with all the issues that may arise in family law related matters. However, things can quickly change in family law cases (which includes divorce, initial paternities, requests to change placement, custody or child support, or requests to change maintenance or alimony, etc.). Hiring an attorney can be an extremely helpful investment in the following circumstances:

  • Attorneys who commonly practice in the family law area are familiar with what Court Commissioners and Judges expect to hear in these cases. For example, if you are requesting a change in placement, the Court will need to understand when the last order regarding placement occurred, and the type of change that may have occurred to show why a change may be in a child’s best interest.
  • Attorneys know what paperwork needs to be filed to effectively use your Court time and ensure that your case is heard. For example, some counties require specific documentation to be filed to get a court date in a divorce proceeding.
  • Attorneys know why certain agreements may be very helpful to avoid returning to court, or may have unintended, negative consequences. For example, if parties agree to divide a 401k in a divorce, certain, specific paperwork is needed to divide the 401k without incurring penalties or incurring avoidable tax consequences to either party.
  • In cases involving domestic violence, having an attorney can ensure appropriate communication, or even avoid the need for a victim to communicate with an abusive partner. Family law attorneys can help navigate restraining orders between parties as well.
  • Attorneys can help educate parties as to what goals can reasonably be accomplished in a Court action and help inform parties as to more resources that may be available to families outside of having a trial in front of a judge. For example, parents may benefit from a therapist’s assistance to help parent better communicate and work together for the benefit of the children. The input from a therapist may be more helpful to these parents than what a Judge may order.
  • Attorneys can be helpful in providing possible solutions that will likely be approved by a Court Commissioner or judge. For example, an attorney knows what factors to look for in determining what a child support order should be and may be able to obtain more information regarding the other parent’s income if that parent is uncooperative. The attorney will also understand how information regarding income and placement time is used to determine an appropriate child support order.
  • Some decisions made during an initial action cannot be changed or are difficult to change, so if you do not have an attorney you might make a mistake that cannot be undone!

These are just a few examples of how hiring an attorney can be very helpful and even necessary in navigating a family law matter. As is often the case in legal matters involving the family, these issues can be very emotional for parties. Attorneys who practice family law understand that these cases can feel overwhelming and even scary because these issues are so important to the parties involved. It is an attorney’s job to offer expertise in the legal process and offer rational advice to their clients. Making well informed decisions can help you avoid coming back to Court in the future and can help parties confidently move forward with their lives. If you feel you could benefit from the advice of an attorney in your family law matter, please call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Exchanging Finances with My Ex – Do I Have To?

There is a new statutory language in Wisconsin which automatically requires parties with minor children to exchange certain financial information regarding income on May 1st of each calendar year.  Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 767.54, in an action where the court has ordered a party to pay child or family support, both parties must annually exchange tax returns, year end paystubs, a recent paystub and any other documentation regarding income from all sources for the 12 month time period preceding the exchange of information.  Even though this is a standard law and provision that is often incorporated into parties’ Marital Settlement Agreements, paternity rulings, and other family law orders, many individuals do not know about this statute or fail to take steps to enforce it. 

When working with individuals wanting to modify a child support order, our first question is always “Is your ex making more money than they were at the time of the original order?”  Most of the time, the answer is either “I don’t know” or “I know they are making more, but I am not sure how much.”  The new statutory language requiring the exchange of income information would assist in answering this question and gives a party the basis for requesting that information.  You absolutely must provide documentation regarding your finances, especially if specifically requested by the other party, or they may have a basis to pursue a contempt motion against you and you may even be responsible for paying their attorneys’ fees for bringing forth that action.

The reason for this is that the award of child support may change if there is a substantial change in circumstances which is based upon any increases or decreases in a party’s income.  Where one party is awarded primary placement, the other party’s income increases will be of higher importance.  Where there is a shared placement schedule, both parties’ changes in income are equally important. 

Why don’t parties follow this rule?  Many times, parties don’t want to go through the hassle of going back to court or doing the math to calculate a new amount every single year.  Others do not feel comfortable directly asking for the other party’s finances or providing their finances to the other party.  However, child support is considered as a payment not for a party, but for the child during that party’s placement time.  As such, it is important for parties to exchange financial information in this manner to ensure that the child is receiving as much support as needed.

Because many parties do not follow or do not know about this rule, the Child Support Agency often revisits prior child support orders after 33 months have lapsed.  The statutes provides that after 33 months, there is a presumption of a substantial change in circumstances upon which a modification of child support may be based. In that case, the Child Support Agency may file a motion to modify child support at that time.  By requesting financial information every year, you can assess whether there needs to be a change in child support and can get a start on filing your motion sooner, since the court cannot retroactively award child support prior to the date of service of any such motion. If you want to change a child support order, the best way to maximize the support is by filing as soon as you learn of a substantial change in income. Or, if your circumstances have changed to the extent that you can no longer pay the support you have been ordered to pay due to a reduction or loss of income, you should file a motion as soon as that occurs.

Deployed Parents and Children’s Custody and Placement Arrangements in Wisconsin

As of March 11, 2022, a new law in Wisconsin called the “Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act” expands parents’ ability to delegate custody and placement responsibilities for a child when one parent is deployed in military service. The deploying parent must notify the other parent of the upcoming deployment. A documented exchange of plans outlining how each parent plans to fulfill their custody and placement responsibilities during the deployment is required to be made if the parents do not reside in the same household.

Frequently, the deployed parent requests that his or her placement time be awarded to a third party such as a step-parent or a grandparent.  However, in that event, both parties must agree in a signed, written agreement, to give temporary custody and/or placement responsibilities to a nonparent during a parent’s deployment. The individual who accepts temporary custody or placement must also agree to the specific arrangements in writing. The parents’ agreement should include the frequency and method of contact between the deploying parent and the child or children. If more than two individuals are given legal custody rights, a process to resolve any custodial disputes should be included in the written agreement.

In some situations, parents may not agree as to what, if any, temporary custody or placement arrangements should be made when facing a parent’s deployment. In that situation, the law allows either parent to  file a motion to address the issues of temporary custody and placement during a deployment. It does not matter if there is not an existing family case such as divorce or paternity that addresses custody and placement. A new case may be created with the court to make these temporary orders. It is also possible that temporary child support may be set up during the parent’s absence. In addressing these issues, the court must also make clear that the custody and placement arrangement made for the nonparent is only temporary. A process to end this authority, whether by stipulation from all parties, or the end of the deployment, should also be ordered by the Court.

These new legal changes are intended to provide helpful options to families wherein a parent faces deployment. The Court will certainly be taking into consideration the best interest of the children involved, and hopefully minimize any disruption to the relationship between the children and the deployed parent. If you have questions, or concerns, regarding how this new law may affect you in your family law matter, please call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Stipulations or Partial Agreements Entered Before Divorce or Legal Separation Judgments in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin,  2021 Wisconsin Act 204 has been signed into law which changes how the courts may enter initial orders regarding custody, placement, and child support for minor children, maintenance, property division, or other related matters. This new law is now incorporated into the Wisconsin Statutes as §767.333. Starting March 20, 2022, a Court may approve as a final order (referred to as an “initial” order in the statute) a stipulation, or partial agreement, regarding custody, placement, child support, maintenance, property division or other related agreements before the judgment of divorce, legal separation, or annulment.

This is important because these agreements will be considered final even if there has not been a judgment of divorce, legal separation, or annulment yet granted. This means that the court would then apply post-judgment statutory standards regarding modification of final orders if a party is requesting a change in the order, even though the underlying divorce, legal separation, or annulment may not be final. Depending on the issues that are agreed upon in the stipulation, this statute notes the specific legal requirements  to address post-judgment motions to modify these final orders.

Because of the finality associated with these types of stipulations, the statute requires that before the court enters the stipulation as a final order of the court, there must be a hearing before the court, on the record, where the court confirms that the parties understand the terms of the stipulation, and the Court also ensures that the parties intend for the stipulation to be considered final. It is helpful to note that this hearing must be held with both parties present, either physically present, or attending by phone, video, or electronic means, to enter these stipulations as final orders.

This change in the statute is very important in cases involving custody and placement issues for minor children. Often, parties are unaware that their initial agreements, incorporated into the Judgment of Divorce, Legal Separation, or Annulment, cannot be modified within two years of that judgment unless that party requesting the modification can prove, with substantial evidence, that not making that change to custody or placement would be physically or emotionally harmful to the best interest of the child or children. After two years from that initial judgment, a party requesting a modification must show a substantial change of circumstances since the last order affecting placement or custody. Given these requirements, it is much more difficult to change custody and placement within that two-year timeframe.

For example, if it takes an additional six months for the Court to issue a final judgment of divorce because there were issues that had to be determined in a trial, but the Court entered a stipulation regarding custody and placement as final orders in the middle of the case under the new statute, then as of the date of divorce, the parties would already be six months into that two-year timeframe.

This can also mean that Partial Agreements regarding property division or other financial matters become final and cannot be changed after the court approves that Agreement.  This is sometimes disadvantageous if a divorce is not yet finalized because circumstances can change.  You may or may not want to lock in a financial agreement prior to the final divorce judgment.  In either case, it important to be aware of what the consequences of entering into that Partial Agreement.

Given the change in the law, it is important to understand what you are agreeing to before entering a stipulation, or a Partial Marital Settlement Agreement, in your divorce, legal separation, or annulment matter. It is important to know what such stipulations may mean, if they are final, and what finality means if something changes after entering these stipulations. If you have questions, or concerns, regarding how this new law may affect you in your family law matter, please call Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

The Effect of the 2021 Child Tax Credit and Advance Child Tax Credit Payments and Filing Your 2021 Taxes

Many parents have legal agreements, such as a Marital Settlement Agreement or Paternity Court Orders, which state that they alternate who claims their child or children’s tax credits each year. What might have made things confusing over the last year is the Economic Impact Payments and the Recovery Rebate Credit for 2021. The IRS determined who received the 2021 advance child tax credit payments based on the information provided by taxpayer’s 2020 tax returns, or their 2019 tax return if the IRS had not processed or received the 2020 return. This may have created confusion if parties alternate claiming their children’s tax credits every other year.

The third Economic Impact Payment was, in fact, an advance payment of the 2021 recovery rebate credit. In some situations, though, an eligible parent may not have received this payment for a qualifying dependent child that the parent is legally entitled to claim on their 2021 tax return. The IRS has offered guidance that confirms that the parent can claim the 2021 recovery rebate credit, regardless of any Economic Impact Payment that the other parent received.

 If a parent received the Economic Impact Payment for a dependent child that they are not legally entitled to claim on their 2021 tax return, they may not be required to pay it back. The IRS has issued information to serve as a guideline for whether the parent who received payments, but was not entitled to claim the dependent child in their 2021 tax return, is entitled to repayment protection. A parent whose 2021 tax return shows a modified adjusted gross income of a maximum of: $60,000 if he/she is married and filing a joint return; $50,000 if filing as head of household; and $40,000 as a single filer or married and filing a separate tax return, will qualify for repayment protection.

However, the payment protection amount will decrease based upon how much more the parent’s modified adjusted gross income is than the thresholds for the total repayment protection. (Outlined in the paragraph, above.) The repayment protection will be completely phased out when that parent’s adjusted gross income on his/her 2021 tax return is: $120,000 or more if married and filing a joint return; $100,000 if filing as head of household; or $80,000 as a single filer or are married and filing a separate return. The IRS expects that most parents who need to repay will do so from their 2021 income tax refund.

Finally, a parent who was eligible to receive advance payments for their child or children, but did not receive these payments, can claim the full amount of the child tax credit for their children that they may legally claim. It does not matter if the other parent received advance child tax credit payments.

The IRS has answered many common questions about the 2021 Child Tax Credit and Advance Child Tax Credit Payments on its website. It may also be helpful to utilize the services of a qualified tax preparer to file your taxes this year, given the rules involving the Advance Child Tax Credit Payments. If you have questions, or concerns, regarding how this may affect your family regarding a divorce, or existing orders regarding child support and other financial issues involving your children, please call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Can Third Parties Use A Parent’s Placement Time?

Stepparents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are third parties who play pivotal roles in children’s lives – but does that mean that they can exercise placement time?  The short answer is no.  Physical placement is defined in Wisconsin as the time period in which a parent has their child with them under their care.  Since third parties are not parents, they cannot exercise placement or be your substitute during that time, even if they are a third party who is near and dear to your child.

But most of the time, third parties can babysit and spend meaningful time with your child.  So where do the courts draw the line?  Courts want to ensure that when a child is left alone with a third party, it is for no longer than a few hours without one of the parents exercising their placement time.  For example, it is generally acceptable to ask a family member to babysit your child for a few hours, or even a day, during your placement time when you are working.  On the other hand, it is generally unacceptable to leave your child with that same family member for a days or weeks or let them “use your placement time” so that you can go on vacation or move to a different state.  Doing so may be grounds for a petition to enforce placement action or even a modification of placement motion.

The courts provide a remedy for times when a parent isn’t fully exercising their placement and is having someone else exercise placement for them.  Wisconsin statutes provide that a court can modify a physical placement order if it finds that a parent has “repeatedly and unreasonably failed to exercise periods of physical placement.”  This is sometimes called the “use it or lose it” statute.  Not exercising your placement time could be grounds for the other parent to modify a placement schedule in their favor.

 If you are in a situation where a third party is exercising placement time of your child, please give us a call Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation.

COVID VACCINE FOR CHILDREN AND DIVORCE

It’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant problems in many ways – but what about in the legal field?   The pandemic has raised a series of questions relating to family law: specifically, custodial decisions.  Parents are facing unique challenges in making the important decisions in their children’s lives such as whether to mask, virtual or in-person schooling, and most importantly, whether to administer the COVID vaccine to their children. This is further complicated if the parents are divorced.

The CDC recommends that everyone who is five years and older receives the COVID-19 vaccine.  However, some parents share different views over the safety, efficacy, and necessity of the vaccine.  What further complicates this issue is that vaccine administration is considered a custodial decision.  Sole legal custody means that one parent has the authority to make major decisions in a child’s life.  Joint legal custody means that both parents are required to make those major decisions together.  Sometimes, two parents may share joint custody but with one parent having final decision-making authority on certain issues, such as medical treatment.  But if the parents share equal medical decision-making authority, both parents have an equal say in whether their child should be vaccinated.

So how can parents resolve this problem?  As always, the ideal is compromise.   Both parents can sit down and understand why the other is for or against vaccinating their child.  Maybe one parent is not comfortable with the vaccine because the child is young, and they can agree that the child receives it when they reach a certain age.  If this doesn’t work, mediation can be a cheaper, timelier, and more efficient avenue for the parties than going to court.  Compromise may also be the most beneficial option for a child’s health, safety, and well-being.

The last case scenario for parents is filing a petition to modify legal custody with the court – however, it is rare for a judge to rule on whether a child should or should not get a vaccination.  In this type of proceeding, a judge may consider factors such as whether the parties have agreed on medical decisions in the past, the child’s pediatrician’s recommendations, whether the parents have allowed their child to receive other vaccinations, and how their schooling would be affected by vaccination.  Ultimately, it’s best for the parents to figure out the decision among themselves and put aside personal beliefs to do what’s best for their child.

Wisconsin Passes New Law Allowing for Contingent Placement Orders

In the past, the courts in Wisconsin have found that orders based upon contingent events – meaning future events which have not yet occurred – were unenforceable as a matter of public policy.  However, under the newly passed 2021 Wisconsin Act 20, the courts are now allowed to enter, and enforce, placement orders to change based on a contingent, or future, event.  The law states that parties can modify a current placement order by stipulation based on the occurrence of a specified future event that is reasonably certain to occur within two years of entering into the agreement.  Previously, placement could not change in an agreement based upon a future event.

For instance, both parties can be reasonably certain that a four-year-old child will enter kindergarten within two years of coming to a placement agreement.  The parties can now agree that their placement schedule will change when that event occurs.  Parties can stipulate to something like one party having primary placement until the child enters kindergarten.   

Note that the act only applies to contingent events and not behaviors.  Specifically, the act states that parties can’t stipulate to contingent behaviors like a parent entering an anger management course, receiving drug or alcohol treatment or therapy, or incarceration. This means that the parties can’t assume that one parent is going to change their behavior and stipulate to changing their placement order based on successful change.

What does this mean for you?  The Act allows parents and the court to address the foreseeable benchmarks in a child’s life in their stipulation. In turn, this may reduce litigation and may save parents both time and money.  Less litigation may also mean less stress on a child.  However, be wary that this law may be a narrow exception to the general rule against a contingent agreement.  Ultimately, the contingency law permits parties to make great strides in stipulating to anticipated changes in their placement orders.

Do you have any questions about contingent custody and placement?  Contact Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC at (414) 258-1644 for a free consultation.

How to Obtain a Harassment Restraining Order in Wisconsin

Wisconsin allows for two different types of restraining orders, or what the court refers to  as an “injunction”: harassment and domestic abuse. An injunction is a court order that orders a party to refrain from committing certain acts or doing certain things. The word restraining order and injunction are essentially interchangeable. This specific blog will help you determine if you have a case to obtain a harassment injunction.

Harassment is defined in the statute as “Striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact; engaging in an act that would constitute abuse, sexual assault, or stalking; or attempting or threatening to do the same. Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which harass or intimidate another person and which serve no legitimate purpose.”

To determine if you have a case for a harassment injunction you should stop and think about 3 key questions: 1) Is my harasser repeatedly contacting me for no legitimate purpose and/or threatening to cause me harm? 2) Does my harasser continue to contact me even if I don’t respond? 3) Most importantly, have I told my harasser to stop contacting me? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you may have a good case to bring forth a harassment injunction. If you answered no to 1 or more of these questions you may still have a case, but it is best if you speak with an attorney who is experienced with restraining orders.

A harassment injunction can be filed by someone who is being threatened, intimidated, continuously contacted, or all the above. Answering no to the question, “Is my harasser threatening to cause me harm?”, is not going to make or break your case.  This question is more so to help determine how long of an injunction should be asked for and to reasonable set expectations regarding your injunction length.  However, you do need to show that your harasser is repeatedly contacting you for no legitimate purpose.

Question 2, “Does my harasser continues to contact me even if I don’t respond?” This question helps determine if the harasser has engaged in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which harass you. An important factor is whether the contact is legitimate? For example, if your “harasser” contacts you about getting their sweatshirt and they contact you several days in a row because you don’t respond is legitimate contact because they are contacting you to get something back that belongs to them. That is not harassment. This is opposed to a situation where your harasser is contacting you about going on a date and you don’t respond and they repeatedly contact you back calling you names or bring up something that is not relevant to you or your conversation. This is not a legitimate purpose in the court’s eyes and could be deemed harassment.

Question 3, “Have I told my harasser to stop contacting me?”, is incredibly important because if you have given notice to your harasser to stop contacting you, this is an essential function of an injunction. If your harasser continues to contact or intimidate you after you have told them to stop, the court will not look kindly on them.

If your harasser has access to firearms and you feel that there is a legitimate threat to your safety, please reach out to an attorney immediately to discuss your legal options for protection. If there are firearms or weapons involved in your case, the court can order for the weapons to be removed from that person.

If you answered yes to any of the questions above or feel like you are being harassed, please contact our firm at (414) 258-1644 for a free consultation.

Should I Opt Out of the Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments?

Starting July 15, 2021, families will start receiving advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments on a monthly basis for the remainder of this year. However, it is important to consider whether your family should opt out of receiving those payments. In fact, families can use the “Child Tax Credit Update Portal” to opt out of these payments, and instead receive the full tax credit after filing their 2021 tax return. In determining what is best for your family, reach out to your tax preparer or seek out the advice of a CPA to help you come to your decision.

For the year 2021, the tax credit for children under 6 is $3,600; and the tax credit for children between 6 and 17 is $3,000. A parent who files taxes with children under the age of 17, will receive the full benefit if his/her income is less than $75,000; and will get a reduced amount if he/she earns between $75,000 and $90,000. Those who file jointly, with children, will get the full credit if their combined income is less than $150,000; and will receive a reduced amount if their combined incomes are between $150,000 and $170,000.

For example, it may be wise to opt out if you typically use your child tax credit to reduce your tax liability, or if you get a significant raise that effects your income eligibility threshold during the 2021 tax year. If a person receives the advance Child Tax Credit payments, but their income goes up during 2021 to where they would not be eligible for the advance payments, they will have to pay back the amount of the credit that was paid to them in advance. This could be significant given the increase in the value of the tax credit.

Parents who are going through a divorce, are divorced or who have paternity support orders also need to be especially careful. It is common that parents who have court orders through a paternity action, or through a divorce action, allocate who can claim the child dependency tax credit each year. The IRS does not know what parents have agreed to, so the structure of these Child Tax Credit payments do not take into consideration these agreements. Instead, the parent who claimed the child on their 2020 or 2019 tax return would be eligible for the advanced payments. However, if you alternate years for the tax credits, and 2021 is not your year to claim your child or children, you will likely have to pay back the advanced Child Tax Credit to the IRS or to the other parent. This can end up being confusing for families in two households. It will be important to review your court orders, and to seek out the advice of a tax preparer or CPA, to determine whether to opt out of these payments to avoid issues with the IRS, or in your family law case.

In order to opt out of these advanced payments go to the IRS website and follow the instructions provided on their website to opt out. That information is available at: https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/child-tax-credit-update-portal. We cannot offer tax advice and, therefore, it is always a good option to seek out the advice of a tax preparer or CPA to help determine what is right for your family.

What the American Rescue Plan Means for Families

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan on March 11, 2021. This bill, otherwise known as the Covid relief bill should have a positive effect on families. Here are some important points to know for your family:

Stimulus checks

This law provides stimulus payments up to $1,400 per person, including for each minor child. The full amount goes to individuals earning less than $75,000 of adjusted gross income, heads of households, such as single parents, earning less than $112,500 and married couples earning less than $150,000. However, as incomes go up, the stimulus payment phases out more quickly than in previous stimulus payments. Individuals earning $80,000 per year, heads of households earning $120,000 per year, and married couples earning $160,000 will not see a stimulus payment.

Stimulus money for children is assigned based on who claimed a child on the last tax return filed. In a divorce or paternity situation, a child is typically allocated as a deduction in an order or judgment. Therefore, whoever is allowed to deduct that child for that tax year will typically receive the stimulus money. Some attorneys put prospective language in a final agreement or order which specifically states that any tax refund, tax stimulus or rebate should be equally divided. You should check your divorce judgment or paternity order for this kind of language. Lastly, you should discuss with the other parent whether they would be willing to equally divide the stimulus money. If you believe that none of these options end in a fair result to you, then you could file a motion with the court asking that you be awarded one-half of the stimulus money for that child. The courts have been very sympathetic to this argument.

Unemployment Assistance

There will be a $300 federal increase to weekly unemployment payments. The law also makes the first $10,200 of unemployment payments tax-free for households with annual incomes less than $150,000

Nutrition Assistance

The law further extends the 15% increase in food stamp benefits through September 2021. The law also extends the Pandemic-EBT, which will provide families whose children’s schools have closed with funding to replace reduced-price and free meals that children would have received if schools remained open, through this summer.

Housing Aid

This law provides about $20 billion to state and local governments for low-income households to cover back rent, provide rental assistance, and assistance for utility bills. It also provides $10 billion to help homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages, property taxes, and utilities.

Tax credits

Tax credits for families was also increased, where the child tax credit was increased to $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for each child under 18. This increase is available for single parents with annual incomes up to $75,000 and joint filers with annual incomes up to $150,000.

Hopefully the American Rescue Plan assists your family during this difficult and uncertain time. If you have questions, or concerns, regarding how the American Rescue Plan may affect your family during a divorce, or existing orders regarding child support and other financial issues involving your children, please call Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Attorney Aislinn Penkwitz


 [MS1]Minors get the 1,400 too?!

What is the Difference Between a Harassment Restraining Order and a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?

Wisconsin allows for two different types of restraining orders  or injunctions: harassment and domestic abuse. An injunction is a court order that orders a party to refrain from committing certain acts or doing certain things. The word restraining order and injunction are interchangeable except that a restraining order is generally granted for a temporary basis until there is a full hearing by the court to determine if an injunction is needed.  What is the difference between these two types of restraining orders?

The first type of injunction is for Harassment. The statute has several definitions for “harassment.”  First, the statute includes in the definition “striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact; engaging in an act that would constitute abuse, sexual assault, or stalking; or attempting or threatening to do the same. This is typically used when the aggressor is not a member of your family.  The definition also includes “engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which harass or intimidate another person and which serve no legitimate purpose.” This can be filed against either a member of your family or someone who is not part of your family.  A harassment injunction can be effective for up to 4 years and can prohibit the harasser from coming to your home and contacting you in any form. Contact can mean via electronic means (social media, text messages, facetime/zoom, etc.), in person, by telephone or e-mail. Please remember that this list is not an exhaustive list for defining contact.  

This type of injunction is typically filed by someone who is being repeatedly contacted or threatened by someone and they have asked that person to stop contacting them. It is important to note that the key difference between a harassment injunction and a domestic violence injunction is who is engaging in the threatening behavior. If the behavior is coming from someone outside of your home and you are not in a relationship or have a familial relationship with them, speak to your attorney about filing a harassment restraining order. If the behavior is coming from someone who lives with you, in a relationship with you, or is a family member, speak to your attorney about filing a domestic abuse restraining order, if appropriate, although a harassment injunction can also be filed against someone in your family or one with whom you have a relationship if they are engaging in harassing behavior only.

For purposes of a domestic abuse injunction, the statute has defined “domestic abuse” as meaning when an adult family member, adult household member, adult caregiver, former or current spouse, former or current dating relationship, an adult with whom the person has a child in common, a sibling or step-parent is intentionally or threatening to inflict physical pain, injury or illness, impair their physical condition, sexually assault, stalk, or damage property. A parent may also file a child abuse restraining order for their child. Please discuss with your attorney your legal options related to filing  a domestic abuse restraining order or a child abuse restraining order.

A domestic abuse restraining order is filed by someone who fears for their physical safety. A domestic abuse injunction can last for up to 4 years and can prohibit the abuser from coming back or moving back into the household and contacting you. Contact can mean via electronic means (social media, text messages, facetime/zoom, etc.), in person, by telephone or e-mail. Again, please remember that this list is not an exhaustive list for defining contact. 

For both types of restraining orders/injunctions, if the harasser or abuser has access to fire arms and you feel that there is a legitimate threat to your safety, please reach out to an attorney immediately to discuss your legal options for protection. If there are fire arms or weapons involved in your case, the court can order for the weapons to be removed from that person.

If you believe that you are being harassed or you are a victim of domestic abuse, please contact our firm at (414) 258-1644 for a free consultation regarding your restraining order.

Attorney Margaret Spring

Be Careful of What You Post on Social Media During Your Family Law Case

Woman chatting with her boyfriend via smartphone app. She broken heart sitting and crying. Unhappy depressed girl in flat design.

Going through any family law action is an extremely emotional experience that may make you throw your decision-making skills out the window. Recently, we have seen parties release some of these emotions by posting on Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.). While social media is a fun way to share your life with your friends or followers, it should not be used to discuss what is going on with your divorce or paternity case.

You should be very careful of what you post on social media during your family law case. Nothing that you post on social media is private and it may be used against you in the legal process. While you may have your account on “lockdown” or “private” that does not always mean that your account is, in fact, private. Friends, family members, or followers can screenshot your account and send your “private” posts to the other party and their attorney.

Below, I am going to discuss some things to ABSOLUTELY NOT POST on your social media accounts during your pending divorce, paternity or post-judgment proceeding.

  1. Anything to do with your legal case.

Remember this is a highly stressful time and you may not be in the clearest state of mind, so what you post, while it may make perfect sense to you, could be taken out of context and could potentially cause you more problems than you intended. Anything that you post on social media can be used against you in your proceeding, no matter how you intended the post to be conveyed.

2. Bad mouthing the other party, making threats and/or using profanity.

You may think that bad mouthing the other party may embarrass them into “giving in” to your wants, but in reality, the court may deem you as abusive, harassing, unreasonable or uncredible. In fact, if you make threats against or negative statements about the other party during the proceeding, that may be grounds for the other party to file a harassment injunction against you.

Threats to judicial officials (Judges/Commissioners), guardian ad litem and opposing counsel, can be criminal felony charges under Wisconsin Statute Section 940.203. Think twice before posting anything that could be construed as a threat to anyone who is involved in your  court proceeding, especially the other party.

3.  Additional income or side jobs.  

If you are in a child support or divorce proceeding and you claim to be unable to pay the other party and you post a picture of your recent trip to Turks & Caicos, the court may infer that you have funds available to pay support, property division payments, or attorney fee contributions. If you claim that you are unable to seek employment for reasons and are unable to pay the other party, please do not post on Facebook that you have an alternative  income stream such as a cash only business. Not only could the court impute an income to you, but the court will make you verify that income and could lead to possible tax implications.

4. Drugs and/or partying.

Posts of you partying or doing drugs may be used against you during your proceeding to show that you are an unfit parent. For example, do not post pictures of you drinking on days that you are scheduled to have placement of your children. This could ultimately lead to you losing placement time of your children and could potentially have other legal ramifications against you.

It may be best to take a break from social media while your case is pending, or to have a neutral party such as a friend review any posts you want to make.

Overall, it is best to take a step back from social media during your legal proceeding, because the consequences of  one negative or questionable post, may outweigh any gratification from making the post.


Do’s and Don’ts of Court Hearings by Zoom

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many court systems have changed to an online video conferencing format using Zoom. Because of this, your home, office, car or any place with a reliable internet or wi-fi connection becomes an extension of the courtroom. Detailed below is how the court expects you to act during a Zoom call and how to log into Zoom.

How to log into your Zoom Hearing:

  1. On your device please use the link https://Zoom.us/ and click join a meeting in the upper righthand corner.
  2. This will take you to a page that reads Join a Meeting. Your attorney or their assistant will send you the Meeting ID and Password information before your hearing. This may be contained in a formal Notice of Hearing. The information in that e-mail will contain your Meeting ID and Password.
  3. After you enter the Meeting ID and click “Join,” a new page will appear that will ask you to enter your Password. If you do not already have a Zoom account, this page will ask you to enter your “username.” Please enter your full first and last name into the username box. Then enter the Password your attorney sent you.
  4. If you already have a Zoom account, please double check that your username is your full first and last name in your account profile.
  5. You may be taken to a waiting room or pulled directly into the hearing. If you are put into a waiting room, there is no need to panic.  You will be pulled into the hearing when the court is ready for you. Please be aware that the court system sometimes does not run on time and you may be waiting for a while.
  6. When you are pulled into the hearing, the Judge or Commissioner may or may not mute you. We ask that you mute yourself during the hearing. The mute button is in the bottom left hand of the screen and looks like a microphone If you need to contact your attorney during the hearing, please e-mail them as they will have their e-mail open during the hearing.
  7. If you have any concerns during this process, please call our office and someone will be more than happy to assist you.

Zoom Do’s:

  1. Do log into Zoom at least 10 minutes early to your hearing to make sure your username is your first and last name and to test your audio and visual connection.
  2. Do ask someone from our office to do a practice run of your hearing If you are unsure on how to use Zoom.
  3. Do make sure the device that is connected to Zoom is fully charged or you have access to a charger during your hearing.
  4. Do dress like you would if you were going to the courthouse.  Please note – this includes pants! Would you wear sweat pants or a tank-top to court? No.
  5. Remember, where you log-in to the hearing becomes part of the court room.  Therefore, do situate yourself in a quiet place with no distractions and with no one else in the room. If you have a child(ren) and are unable to find child care, please do your best to make sure they are quiet and not in the room with you. Remember, court proceedings are for adults, not children. The Judge or Commissioner does not want children to hear what is going on during the Zoom hearing. This also goes for household pets. Please make sure they are not in the room with you or in a place where barking or other behavior will interfere with the hearing.
  6. Do have your e-mail open as your attorney may e-mail you during the hearing.
  7. Do mute yourself during the hearing unless you are asked to unmute yourself by your attorney or by the judge. The mute button is in the bottom left hand corner of screen when you are in the hearing.
  8. Do make sure your video is on.  The court wants to make sure it is actually you who is participating in the hearing and no one else is inappropriately present in the hearing (i.e. children).  Your video button is a video camera icon on the bottom left of your screen.

Zoom Don’ts:

  1. Don’t eat food on the Zoom. You may drink water on the Zoom.  If you do please do not use a cup or mug with logos or inappropriate sayings/pictures.
  2. Don’t speak during the Zoom unless your attorney or the judge asks you a question directly.
  3.  Don’t use the chat function on the Zoom application. This chat can be read by anyone in the Zoom, even if you think you are direct messaging someone.
  4. Don’t Zoom and drive. If you are doing the hearing from your car, please have the car in park so your full attention is on the hearing.
  5. Don’t record the hearing. It is illegal.

We hope this list of Zoom Do’s and Don’ts explains how the court expects you to act during your hearing. If you have any questions regarding this list or how to log into your Zoom hearing, please ask your attorney directly.

BEWARE OF GIMMICKS AND FLAT FEES WHEN HIRING A DIVORCE ATTORNEY!

In this digital age, there is much competition among any business but, in particular, among lawyers.  Most lawyers practice in one particular area or niche such as personal injury, drunk driving, bankruptcy or divorce.  We have all seen the commercials which can be tacky, harsh or, frankly, even embarrassing!

In some areas of the law, many lawyers ascribe to the quantity over quality philosophy.  Their goal is to get as many clients in the door as possible and they often succeed.  However, that does not mean they are good attorneys or provide quality representation to their clients.  It simply means they are good at advertising.

In the area of divorce or family law, it is even more important to stay away from this gimmicky type of advertising.  Your entire future, and the future of your children, could depend on your attorney.  You need to have experienced and caring representation to guide you through what can be the most difficult time in your life.  So, what can you do to ensure you pick the right divorce attorney?

Most people start with an internet search.  Searching for terms such as experienced divorce attorney/lawyer or best divorce attorney/lawyer in your specific city or county is typically a good place to start.  This will bring up a list of attorneys either in the Google Business Pages (in the directory with the map) or the organic search engine results.  Most search engines have an algorithm which takes into account a variety of factors.  However, the attorneys at the top of these search results are typically (a) the attorneys who have the most and highest reviews and (b) attorneys who have the most long- standing websites. Therefore, these attorneys are typically the ones who are the most experienced and highly rated attorneys in your area.  But, buyer beware, some attorneys listed high in either results may also just be the ones who pay the most to advertise.  Make close note if the word “ad” appears next to or within the listing.  This means that the attorney has paid to appear high on the page or high on the Google Business listing results.

Once you choose an attorney or law firm to look at from these results, you need to investigate further.  First, go to their website and check it out.  Who are their attorneys?  Look at their profiles and what is their experience?  How long have they been attorneys? Do they have any awards or specific recognitions identified?  What are their practice areas?  What is their philosophy about the area of law they are practicing in?  Having the most attorneys or a high number of attorneys doesn’t mean much in the area of divorce law. 

Next, look at the details of the firm itself.  Where are they located?  Is this a convenient location for you?  In what areas or counties do they practice?  If they limit their practice areas, that means they are familiar with and are well known in those particular counties.  This will help you and your case.  Has the firm received any awards or recognitions?   Do they offer free consultations, or do they charge for their consultations?  Do they discuss fees on their website?

When discussing fees, beware of gimmicks! If it is too good to be true, it probably is! Many lawyers are advertising flat rate fees now.  However, the economics of a divorce and a law firm are not very conducive to flat rates.  For example, if a firm has numerous lawyers, they have to be paid somehow.  If they have numerous locations, the rent and expenses need to be paid in all of those locations.  So, either the flat rate is often very high from the start or there will be a “catch.”  It will say “starting at” or the flat amount will only cover a certain part of the divorce.  A recent case with one of these law firms had one party paying a $7,000 flat rate but, because it was a simple divorce, the other party whose lawyer charged hourly only paid about $3,500 in total fees.  While it is predictable at the start, a flat rate is NOT always a good deal. And what happens when the simple divorce becomes not so simple? Will the firm demand more money to continue on the case?  What if your case demands attention, such as the issuance of subpoenas or depositions, but your flat fee does not cover that?   If you are contemplating hiring one of these attorneys, read the contract very carefully and make sure you understand ALL of the terms.

What is also crucial when selecting an attorney is to know who will be with you throughout your case. Will your file remain with the attorney who you hire, or will you be shuffled around the firm? Having consistency in your representation is so very important. Without this, you are telling your story over and over and lacking continuity of representation.

You should also check the reviews for the attorney and law firm.  The reviews should be from an independent, neutral source like Google or Yelp, not the reviews which are posted on the attorney’s website. Reviews that are posted on the firms website are controlled by the firm. They can post the positive but leave out the critical.    In the area of family law, it is important to note that not all negative reviews are accurate since sometimes the opposing party is angry when a lawyer obtains a good result for their client so you should read those carefully. For more information on attorney reviews, please see our blog here:  Lawyer Reviews – Reader Beware!

Of course, a personal referral is also important when retaining a divorce attorney. Having a recommendation from a family member or friend can be the most valuable resources when considering attorneys.

Once you choose a lawyer or two who you feel will best meet our goals and objectives,  contact their office via email or telephone to schedule a consultation.  How does their staff treat you?  How do they handle appointments?  Do they answer your questions, especially about fees?  If a lawyer gets on the phone right away, that is not necessarily a good thing! That usually means that their lawyers are not busy.  Most well-respected attorneys have a healthy caseload and an appointment is required, just as if you were to call a doctor or any other professional to schedule an appointment.  On the other hand, if you can’t get an appointment for weeks, that is also not a good thing!  That means the attorney may not have time for you or your case. 

When meeting with the attorney, judge their demeanor.  Do they seem interested in you and your case?  Do they seem knowledgeable about the issues you may face?  Are they willing to answer your questions?  Keep in mind that lawyers cannot give you legal advice unless you are client, but experienced and caring lawyers can at least give you an idea as to what you may expect from your case.  Are they willing to explain their billing and office practices?

So, when hiring a divorce or family law attorney, shop around.  Ask questions.  Meet with more than one attorney.  As exhausting as that sounds, it is in your best interests to do so.  Go with your instincts and who you feel the most comfortable with.  Make sure the lawyer provides detailed, monthly billing and a detailed written fee agreement which clearly sets forth what you are being charged for and how the billing at that firm works.  Also make sure that the lawyer sets forth clearly the expectations for both you and your case.  A lawyer should be able to advise you how the process works, what you might expect and possible outcomes given the facts of your case. 

Any lawyer who can tell you what your divorce will cost or what results you will receive is not being truthful with you. There is no way to tell how the case will proceed.   Therefore, it is impossible to classify a divorce as “contested” or “uncontested” before it even begins. Those are factors that cannot be pre-determined or predicted and fees should not be decided up front based on unrealistic expectations or predictions about a case.  This is just a gimmick and should be treated with healthy skepticism.  It is more important that you find a divorce attorney with  reasonable fees, a reasonable retainer, and transparent billing practices, who is also experienced and caring.

What documents Should You Collect Before Divorce?

When a married couple decides to end their marriage, they may be initially too wrapped up in the emotional side of divorce to begin preparing for the process. This is completely understandable. Divorce is a big change, and it can be one that comes unexpectedly for many spouses.

It may take you a bit of time to get your bearings. However, it can be advantageous to begin preparing for divorce sooner rather than later.
Which documents are important to collect?

Collecting documents may be one of the first steps you want to take to prepare for divorce. During divorce, both you and your spouse will need your own copies of all your family’s important documents. By acting early, you can reduce the chance that some of those important documents disappear or become unavailable to you.

Some of your family’s documents you may want to collect, include:
• Tax returns from the last five years
• W-2s
• Pay stubs
• Bank statements, including investment accounts
• Employment contracts
• Benefits statements
• Retirement account statements
• Mortgage statements
• Loan applications
• Deeds to all properties
• Utility bills
• Vehicle registrations
• Estate planning documents
• Monthly budget documents

This list can appear overwhelming, especially if it will take some hunting to find some of these documents. However, going through your family’s paperwork and getting yourself organized can be cathartic. It can help you get an idea of some of the details that will need to be hashed out during your divorce, and it can help you envision what your post-divorce future may look like.

What should you do with the documents after collecting them?
When you have collected all the documents that you need, you may begin to think about where you might store them. Remember that you and your spouse will both need copies of these documents. However, you will want to make sure your copies are kept in a secure place where they won’t easily be tampered with.

You also may want to consider how you will organize these documents. You are not obligated to keep the organizational system that you used in your marital home. The system you use only needs to make sense to you.
You went to all the trouble of finding the documents once. It can reduce your stress during your divorce if you have similar documents grouped together in a way that allows you to find a particular document as soon as you need it.

Divorce can certainly be an emotional process, but it is also business. If your marriage is ending in divorce, it may be reasonable for you to take the necessary steps to protect your interests. Collecting the right documents early in the process can be one step that helps you achieve more of the divorce outcomes that matter most to you.

 

How to Establish Paternity in Wisconsin (Update)

What is paternity and why is it important? It allows you to be legally involved in the child’s life. It also allows you to be named on the child’s birth certificate. Establishing paternity/parentage allows the parent to gain rights to the child and also gives the parent responsibilities related to the child. Determining parentage gives the parent the right to ask the court for custody (the ability to make decisions for your child, for example, where the child goes to school and where the child can attend church) and to have physical placement such as overnight visits with your child. Along with these rights, the child can receive child support, be added to your health insurance, can receive your social security benefits if you become disabled or die, and can inherit from you.

Wisconsin has two ways to establish paternity: 1) voluntary paternity acknowledgment; and 2) court order.

Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement

The easiest way to establish paternity, when you are not married, is with the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement form. This form can be signed if both the mother and the father are over the age of 18 and both agree that the man is the father. All hospitals in Wisconsin have this form and will notarize it at the hospital. Be aware, this form cannot be used if the child was conceived while the mother was married to another man. This form has to be filed with the State and, if it is not rescinded, there can be significant legal ramifications. We would strongly recommend that you do not sign the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement unless you are absolutely sure you are the father! If you are not 100% sure, you should seek legal advice before signing the Acknowledgement.

Court Order

If you are named the possible father of a child and you do not agree, a court hearing will be scheduled. During this hearing, your rights and responsibilities will be explained to you. If you would like genetic testing to determine if you are the parent, this would be the time to ask for it. The child support agency pays for the genetic tests until paternity is established. You may be ordered to pay for the tests if the tests show that you are the parent. If you are not determined to be the parent, you will not be charged for the tests. You have the right to object to the test results in court although the current tests are extremely accurate so this would be difficult to do. Under Wisconsin law, the genetic test must show a 99% or greater probability of paternity in order to be presumed the father.

If the mother is married at the time the child is born, the husband is presumed to be the father.  In order to overcome that presumption and adjudicate another man, there are a wide variety of legal steps and  ramifications which are not easily addressed in a blog.  We would encourage you to seek counsel in this situation.

If you are concerned about the paternity of your child or are listed as a possible father in a paternity action, please contact Nelson, Krueger and Millenbach, LLC, for a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney.

COVID-19 and Divorce Mediation in Wisconsin

Deciding to file for divorce is never an easy decision to make. But during these pandemic circumstances, it can be an even more challenging decision. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has restricted in-person court proceedings through at least May 22, 2020, and the courts will likely significantly limit in-person proceedings for the unforeseeable future to follow. It is safe to assume that our access to the courts to schedule hearings in family law matters will be significantly affected and delayed.

How can one file for divorce when we are under a Safer-at-Home Order and our access to the courts is affected? Despite these factors, the pandemic does not mean that you cannot file for divorce or that your case has to remain stagnant. Many people are commenting about how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on new perspectives and priorities. Maybe now is the time to engage, or re-engage, in mediation of your family law case?

Divorce mediation is a process where a divorcing couple jointly hires a divorce mediator to assist them through the divorce process. A divorce mediator is considered to be neutral and does not take a position for or against either party or give legal advice to either party. As a neutral, a mediator can inform the parties of the law and provide calculations for support, property division, and other divorce related issues.  As a neutral, the mediator works with the couple to help them reach an agreement. With the new Wisconsin mediation rules in family cases, a divorce mediator can also draft and file the legal pleadings with the court making it easier for a divorcing couple to navigate the court procedures. Divorce mediation also allows parties to maintain control over the process of their divorce by working toward agreements outside of court.

Now more than ever, parties and those involved in the legal system, must adapt and use alternative means to achieve legal objectives. Through the divorce mediation process, we can conduct mediation through phone conferences, Zoom meetings, emails, and other forms of contact than do not require in-person meetings. You can continue to work on resolution and bring your case to conclusion despite the challenges we all face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the courts in Southeastern Wisconsin such as Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties are allowing parties to proceed with a Judgment of Divorce by Affidavit without the need to appear in court for a final hearing. This is only true in cases in which both parties have an attorney or the parties have engaged the services of an attorney acting as a divorce mediator. So, if you are considering divorce and believe that divorce mediation may be a desirable option for you, there is an added benefit in that your Judgment of Divorce can be granted now by Affidavit without you ever having to appear in court. This option is not available in cases where one party does not have an attorney or the parties have not hired a divorce mediator.

At Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC, we are proud to offer couples the option of divorce mediation with an experienced family law attorney trained in divorce mediation. Prior to the pandemic and now, our experience and success in working with couples who wish to maintain control of their divorce process through divorce mediation has been a benefit to our mediation clients.  Attorney Alison H.S. Krueger at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC is a well-respected and trained divorce mediator. Her primary experience is as a practicing divorce attorney, but she also engages in the mediation process where she deems it will be the most helpful. She also charges a reasonable hourly rate given her years of experience in this field. If you are interested in this process, please call us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free consultation to discuss same.

 

Are the Family Courts in Wisconsin Open under COVID-19 Restrictions?

Courts in Wisconsin, and in particular the family law  and divorce Courts, have been severely affected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the beginning of the pandemic and the Wisconsin Safer at Home orders, most courts either cancelled hearings, adjourned them or started doing hearings by alternative means.  Some hearings continued to be held via telephone or Zoom.  However, there are many hearings which were cancelled and still need to be rescheduled, although ,the courts are slowly starting to do that.

Even though the current Safer at Home order in Wisconsin expires on May 26, 2020, it is not certain that the courts will be reopening to pre-COVID-19 operations after that time.  In Milwaukee County, for example, they have indicated they will not doing in person hearings in the near future and likely not until after July, 2020.  All hearings currently on the court’s calendars, if not rescheduled, will be conducted by Zoom or telephone.  Trials or contested hearings, however, will still likely be rescheduled until after in person hearings are being conducted.  Each judge is using his or her own discretion as to how they want to handle certain types of hearings.

In Waukesha County, they have not yet announced what their plans will be.  They are just now starting to reschedule previously cancelled Pretrial Conferences and Status Hearings.  Those hearings will likely be by telephone.  They have not announced plans to reschedule or resume Family Court Commissioner hearings or contested hearings.

In Washington and Ozaukee counties, most hearings have been and are proceeding by Zoom or by telephone.

In all counties, they are continuing to hold hearings on emergency matters such as domestic or child abuse restraining orders and custody/placement enforcement petitions.

If you are a client of our firm, the attorneys and staff at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach will continue to keep you apprised of the status of your court hearings as soon as we receive that information from the Courts.

Guidelines for Parents Who Are Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in conjunction with the Association of Family Conciliatory Courts has put out seven guidelines for parents who are sharing placement of their children during the pandemic. Wonderful advice from the top family lawyers and mental health professionals in the nation.

From the leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis:

Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML)
Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC)
Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC
Yasmine Mehmet, AAML
Kim Bonuomo, AAML
Nancy Kellman, AAML
Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC
Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC
Jill Peña, Executive Director of AAML
Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC

1. BE HEALTHY.

Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.

2. BE MINDFUL.

Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.

3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.

As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.

4. BE CREATIVE.

At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.

5. BE TRANSPARENT.

Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.

6. BE GENEROUS.

Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.

7. BE UNDERSTANDING.

There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.

Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.