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.

 

Holiday Placement Tips for Parents

The holidays are here at last and we all have one desire: To celebrate with family and friends. Children and adults alike share this interest; however, it doesn’t always come so easy for those who are caught in the middle of a custody and/or placement dispute. Many parents are subject to custody and placement arrangements with their children but it does not always quell the symptoms of co-parenting disputes. If you or someone you know is faced with a holiday placement dispute, there are several things to remember when trying to keep the peace.

First, always be cognizant of the placement schedule set in your court order. It is important to remember that the normal placement schedule and the holiday schedule operate separate from one another. In the case of a holiday placement dispute, the holiday schedule set forth in the court order will always take precedence over the normal placement schedule (unless the parties agree otherwise). If the parties agree to deviate from the court ordered holiday placement schedule, make sure that this is reduced to writing to avoid any future (s)he said/(s)he said” problems.

Unfortunately, even if a court order sets out a specific schedule for holiday placement, that does not necessarily prevent issues from popping up between the parents. One parent may decide to act contrary to the holiday schedule and keep the child from the other parent. In this case, there are a few different options the other parent may have here. Option one would be for the parent being denied placement to keep a journal highlighting each time a dispute or not agreed upon deviation from the schedule arises. This journal should contain detailed notes about what happened on specific dates. This is helpful to provide to your attorney should you decide to take the issue into court. Option two would be to involve law enforcement. The parent being denied placement will need to provide authorities with a copy of the placement schedule proving that the other parent is withholding placement and the schedule should be followed. In most cases, contacting law enforcement should be a last resort unless there is a legitimate threat to the safety of the child.

In most cases, the court order will feature a specific holiday placement schedule; however, what happens when the original court order does not specify a holiday placement schedule? It is understood that courts typically like to see an alternating placement schedule. For example, if mom were to have placement on Christmas day this year, dad would get Christmas day placement next year and the pattern would continue this way. From the perspective of the Court, Christmas Eve is generally seen as a separate holiday from Christmas day. To allude to the previous example, during a year where mom might have Christmas Day placement, dad would likely have placement on Christmas Eve. It is important for both parents to put equal effort into exercising placement schedules that will be most beneficial for their children.

The most important thing to remember is that the children should always come first. The children are most affected in placement disputes so parents should be mindful to keep a positive atmosphere for the children. That being said, all of us at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach would like to wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season.

New Grandparent’s Rights Rule in Wisconsin

This spring, in the highly anticipated case, Michels v. Lyons, the Wisconsin Supreme Court changed how the circuit court interprets the Wisconsin grandparent’s rights law. The Wisconsin grandparent’s rights law allows for the circuit court to award visitation to grandparents under certain conditions. This law has been somewhat controversial as the courts must balance the interests of parent’s deemed to be fit making decisions for their children, and the importance of the relationship between grandparents and children. This law applies to paternity and divorce cases where the parents are not married.

In the Michels v. Lyons case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court determined that the Grandparent’s Visitation Statute, Wis. Stat. 767.43, is constitutional which means that grandparents continue to have the right to ask the court to order visitation with their grandchildren. However, in order for the circuit court to award visitation to a grandparent, the grandparent must overcome the court’s presumption that the parent’s visitation decision is in the child’s best interest and prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the parent’s decision regarding visitation with the grandparents was not in the child’s best interest.

In other words, it is the grandparent’s responsibility to prove to the court, at the highest level of proof required in a civil case, that the parent’s decision (usually to reduce or stop visitation between their child and the child’s grandparent) is not in the child’s best interest. The Court made it more difficult for the courts to substitute what their judgment, or a grandparent’s opinion, of what is in the child’s best interest for visitation for that of a fit parent’s judgment. This can be an uphill battle for a grandparent seeking court ordered visitation.

However, it does not mean that a grandparent cannot succeed in a motion to set grandparent visitation. There has always been an assumption that fit parent’s decisions as to visitation between a child and a grandparent is what is in the child’s best interest. The change is that in a motion for grandparent visitation it is the grandparent’s responsibility to prove that the parent’s decision is not in the child’s best interest. This is a more difficult thing to prove.

There are many fact scenarios where the Court could see that grandparents could be successful. For example, if the minor child has resided with the grandparent for a period of time, or provided care to the minor child on a consistent basis. If a parent decides to cut off all contact between a minor child and a grandparent, especially in such a situation where there is an established relationship in the examples above, it may be appropriate for the circuit court to order visitation in that situation. Grandparents visitation cases may be more common when a parent decides to reside with a grandparent to get back on their feet after the end of a relationship, or during and after a divorce. Depending upon several factors, it may be more likely to see the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild reach a level envisioned by the Court to meet the burden of proof necessary to award court ordered visitation.

This new standard in the grandparent visitation cases places a greater emphasis on fit parents’ decisions regarding visitation between a grandparent and their minor child. However, it still contemplates many situations where there should be visitation ordered by the circuit court when this parental decision can be proven by clear and convincing evidence to not be in the child’s best interest. The Court acknowledges the importance of preserving a relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild.  However, these relationships must be balanced with a fit parent’s decision. If you are involved in a situation regarding grandparent’s visitation, whether you are a grandparent, or a parent, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

Holiday Tips for Parents Going Through Family Law Matters

Now that the holidays are upon us, we want to remind parents who are going through family law matters of some helpful tips to ensure peaceful holidays for your family:

  1. Do not wait until the actual holiday to confirm plans/details. Be sure that you and the other parent are on the same page well before the actual holiday, so you do not have any conflict.  Keep in mind attorneys take off time over the holidays too so allow plenty of time to be able to contact your attorney, or so that your attorney can contact the other attorney, in order to resolve any disputes.
  2. If you have a disagreement about placement and the holiday is now upon you, follow your court ordered agreement and keep the peace. Take detailed notes of what happened and connect with your attorney about any concerns or violations of the court orders after the holidays.
  3. Unless there is a legitimate safety concern for your children, police contact should be a last resort, especially over the holidays.
  4. Do not speak ill of your ex in front of your children or around your children. This includes not speaking ill of your ex even to other family members at a family gathering while your children are in ear shot, or allow friends or family to make such comments around your children. There is no reason while your children need to hear about your conflict over the holidays.
  5. Do allow your children to talk about their other parent with you. Holidays are difficult for children when parents are separated, especially if this is new to the children. You should, however, support your children if they tell you that they miss their other parent. Consider allowing a phone call or Facetime chat, so that your children can connect with the other parent.  Perhaps in return, your ex will give you the same courtesy when you are not with your children during a holiday.
  6.  Above all, remember the holidays are about your kids. Ensure to the best of your ability that you make the holidays positive for your children. Maximize your holiday placement time with your children by spending quality time with them creating memories and new traditions.

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.

Happy Holidays to you!