Be a Vault! Protect Confidential Information In Family Law Cases

Protecting your confidential information should always be a primary concern in life, but especially so in divorce and family law cases. When you are engaged in a pending divorce or paternity pre- or post-judgment case, you will likely be called upon to provide what will seem like an endless list of financial documents. You will need to provide your attorney, opposing party, opposing attorney and the court with wage stubs, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, retirement and investment statements, social security reports, and many, many other documents. You may even need to provide medical records and other personal information. Who would want these documents circulating without protection? The answer is: no one!

Wisconsin Statutes require that certain documents which confidential information must be redacted before filing with the court. This means that identifiable information such as social security numbers, account numbers, etc. must be removed before a document can be filed with the court. If you are going to file such a document with this information, you need to ensure that you, your attorney, and the opposing attorney removes this information before filing or penalties can result.

Not only do you have a duty to protect your own confidential information, but you also have to be careful to protect the other party’s confidential information. In a recent Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision, Heidi Black v. Jeffrey Allen Kelly and MidWest Mgmt., Inc., No. 2021AP1239 (Wis. Ct. App. Sept.1, 2022), the court was called upon to decide a unique situation in which protected financial information was inadvertently made public through an opposing party’s employer’s computer system.

In Black v. Kelly and MidWest Mgmt., Inc., Heidi Black’s Financial Disclosure Statement from her divorce case was made available online through her former spouse’s employer’s computer server. Black’s friend discovered that her Financial Disclosure Statement was available online to the public after completing an internet search of Black’s name. Black sued her former spouse, Jeffrey Allen Kelley, and his employer, Mid-West Management, Inc., for making public her Financial Disclosure Statement from her divorce action.

The court in Black v. Kelly and MidWest Mgmt., Inc. found in Kelley’s and Mid-West Management, Inc.’s favor and dismissed Black’s civil case for damages only because there was no evidence that Black’s Financial Disclosure Statement was viewed by anyone besides Black’s friend, Kelley, and Mid-West Management, Inc. when removing the document from public access. Wisconsin law requires a finding of “publicity” of the protected information which is “the matter is made public by communicating it to the public at large, or to so many persons that the matter must be regarded as substantially certain to become one of public knowledge” in order to award damages. See Black v. Kelly and MidWest Mgmt., Inc. Publicity was not proven in this case. The court distinguished “publicity” from “publication” which includes an element “in connection with liability for defamation” when evaluating if damages should be awarded. See Black v. Kelly and MidWest Mgmt., Inc. The Defendants-Respondents in this case hired experts to show that Black’s Financial Disclosure Statement was viewed by limited persons and was not made public communication.

The importance of Black v. Kelly and MidWest Mgmt., Inc. suggests that there could, however, be a civil tort basis should a party’s financial, confidential and/or protected information be made public communication. The Black case and the applicable case law does not require a finding of malice or intention in making the information public in order for damages to be awarded it only needs to be proven that the information was made a communication to the public at large.

What does that mean for you? The answer is clear, you need to be a vault! Protect your soon-to-be ex’s information the same way that you protect your own: with the tightest security and highest level of protection.

If you have questions about a family law action and how to best protect yourself, please contact Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

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.

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.

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.

Lawyer Reviews – Reader Beware!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Domestic Partnership Registration Ending in Wisconsin

As of April 1, 2018, Wisconsin will no longer offer new applicant Domestic Partnership status in Wisconsin. The Domestic Partnership registry provides some important protections to unmarried

same-sex and opposite-sex couples. When this status was made available almost a decade ago, marriage was not a legal right for all persons. Now, marriage is a legal right in Wisconsin for all persons.

Some of these important protections that domestic partnership status includes are: family medical leave for a sick or dying partner, the ability to obtain health insurance for a partner, hospital visitation rights, application of spousal privilege so a domestic partner cannot be compelled to testify against his or her partner, the right to inherit if a partner dies without a will and the transfer of real estate between partners without taxes.

While this status does not provide the full legal protections that legally married couples are entitled to, it also does not require the same obligations. For example, in the event that a domestic partnership does not work out, there is no official “divorce” process and there is no requirement to share debts, support your partner, etc. This is part of the appeal to obtaining this type of status.

Importantly, couples who have already obtained domestic partnership status in Wisconsin or successfully do so prior to April 1, 2018, will still maintain the rights and benefits associated with this status after the April 1st deadline. If couples are not likely to get married this year, registering for this status before the April 1st deadline may be worth considering.

Should you have any family law related questions, please feel free to contact our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free ½ hour consultation with one of our attorneys.

What to Look for in Hiring a Divorce or Family Law Attorney

Once you make the difficult decision to pursue legal action such as a divorce, paternity action, or a a post judgement modification or enforcement motion in a family law matter, the next decision you are faced with can be as equally difficult. Will you hire an attorney and, if so, which attorney will be best suited to represent your best interests in your legal matter? There can be many attorneys to choose from and the internet may seem to be overloaded with information and options.  Below are some tips for what to look for in hiring a divorce or family law attorney.


If you do not have a direct referral to an attorney, most people start their search with an internet search with terms such as divorce attorney or ____ (fill in the blank with the type of attorney you are search for) attorney in your area.  This brings up a list of attorneys or firms who practice that type of law in that certain geographical area.  The attorneys or firms who appear on the first page or high up in the search results are often the attorneys or firms who have the best reviews or have the highest volume of cases in that particular area.  This generally means they are also the most experienced attorneys in that practice or geographical area.  Generally, people choose attorneys from those who appear first in those couple of pages.  From there, when searching for the right attorney, you may want to review an attorney’s or firm’s website, online reviews, and schedule a consultation. When doing this, there are a few things you may want to keep in mind. For example, a website can be very helpful in showing whether or not an attorney has kept their page up to date,  whether  they write articles or blogs, which can offer helpful information and tips and also provide insight into whether the attorney, or whether their firm, is truly knowledgeable in that area and stays up to date with the laws that apply to family law.  Websites can also provide information as to which specific areas of law an attorney or firm practices, how experienced they are, or whether they have won any awards or are members of any specific organizations.  For example, please review our website at All of this information can give you a better idea about how experienced an attorney is in the area you are searching for.  The more experienced an attorney, the better chance you have at receiving a positive result in your matter and/or obtaining the best possible advice about what may happen in your case.


When searching for an attorney, it is important to find out how the attorney how their fees are charged.  Some attorneys and firms charge an hourly rate and calculate your fees by the amount of time it takes to work on your matter. When you are considering attorneys, it is important to ensure that you will get an itemized billing statement on a frequent basis. Other firms may bill at a flat rate based upon the work that needs to be completed in your matter. That may be a cost-effective way to handle certain matters, but it may also be difficult to know if you are going to get the attention and dedication to your case once your flat fee has essentially “run out.” It is important to know what services the flat fee will cover, and if any future fees may be required if your matter becomes more time intensive, or if something changes in your matter, that would require additional fees and how much.


It can also be very helpful to look at online lawyer client reviews to help you when choosing an attorney. While many of these reviews can give you a better understanding of how the lawyer practices, it is also important to keep a few things in mind. Attorneys have certain ethical obligations that prohibit them from making any in-depth comments about client’s cases.  So, if you encounter a bad review of an attorney, keep in mind that the attorney may not be able to respond to the commentator, whose review may or may not be truthful or relevant to the quality of services that the lawyer or law firm provides. It is also helpful to remember that anyone can leave a review, including an unhappy or unsuccessful opposing party, which has been known to happen. There are also cases where a client is in the wrong or is the cause of the problems in their own case which causes an unfavorable result.  These clients often are the ones who leave negative reviews which really do not accurately reflect the competency of an attorney as a whole.  You should take into consideration the above if the majority of the reviews for the attorney or firm are positive, except for one or two.  To determine for yourself if the reviews are accurate, it may be best to review the attorney’s or law firm’s website and utilize a consultation with the attorney or law firm to decide for yourself if that attorney will best represent you in your legal matter.


Finally, you may be able to schedule a consultation with one or several attorneys to see who is right for you. Some attorneys and law firms offer a free consultation, while others may charge a fee for their consultation.  Whether there is a charge for a consultation or not does not necessarily indicate the quality of that attorney’s or law firm’s services.  Instead, consultations, like job interviews, are helpful for both clients and attorneys to ensure that there is a good fit for any future legal representation.


These examples show why it is important to consider many factors when choosing the best attorney to represent you in your family law matter. After reviewing our firm and our attorneys, we are confident that you will find we fit all of the above criteria.  If you wish to contact our firm to see if we can best represent you in your upcoming or pending family law matter, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

What Is the Most Popular Time of Year To File a Divorce?

Divorce concept with gavel and wedding rings

When do people most commonly file for divorce? While there can be many reasons why individuals may consider filing for divorce, there are certain times of the year that courts see an increased number of divorce filings. In a recent article published by CNN, with an analysis by, states that American divorce filings between 2008 and 2011 revealed a surge in divorces in the month of January, with divorce filings increasing and peaking in late March. The article suggests many reasons for this trend, and can be found here:

In summary, this article suggests that many people make up their minds about a divorce before the holidays, but hold off until January to avoid appearing heartless to family and friends by ending a marriage during the holidays. Many people may also be motivated by budget issues to wait until after the New Year. The end of the year is generally when many people receive bonuses, which can be helpful when approaching the expense of a divorce. Plus, waiting until the New Year can allow couples to file their taxes jointly for the previous year, which can be beneficial for the parties facing a divorce.

It is suggested by psychiatrist and author of “The Intelligent Divorce” book series, Mark Banschick, that the start of the year, for many people, is an “existential moment,” where people self-assess their lives and determine that life is too short, and that the current version of who they are is unhappy. He notes that the best time for a divorce is when an individual feels centered about who they are and what it is that they need in life.

Surprisingly, another time of year that people commonly file for divorce is in September. Traditionally, summer is the time for family vacations because the children are home from school, and many people do not want to start trouble at this time. Summer is also wedding season, and many people do not wish to attend weddings in the middle of a divorce. So, similarly to the end of a busy holiday season, people tend to feel like the time for togetherness is over, and it is time to get back to real life.

To those of us involved in the area of family law, it is clear that a divorce is a difficult decision for anyone to make at any time. The decision to proceed with a divorce can have a profound effect on the individual’s family, financial well-being, and daily life. If you are facing this difficult decision, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Divorce from the Child’s Perspective

Please stop fighting!I recently read an article that discussed divorce from a child’s perspective. Since a significant portion of my caseload is Guardian ad Litem appointments (where I am appointed by the court as the attorney for the child’s best interests), I am frequently tasked with speaking with children whose parents are in the process of divorce or other custody and/or placement disputes. In my work as Guardian ad Litem, I see first-hand what divorce is like from the child’s perspective. As such, it is important as parents going through a divorce, to be mindful of the below requests and thoughts that children wish their parents knew during a divorce:

1. We can love both of you 100%. Just because we love being at dad’s house and love our dad, does not mean that we don’t love you and being at your house mom. This also means that when we miss dad when we are with you, it’s not because we love you any less. Please do not make us feel like we have to choose who we like more or less. Also, please do not make us feel that we cannot share with you that we are enjoying our time with both parents. This is a tough time for us, so please allow us to be happy.

2. We notice when you are civil with one another and appreciate it. We know that you are not getting along well. Otherwise, you would still be together and not going through a divorce. However, the fact that you can still both attend our sporting events and school concerts and be nice to one another for our sakes means a lot to us.

3. We are not informants. Period. When you ask us questions about what happens at mom’s house or about mom’s new boyfriend, we know it is because you want “dirt” on mom. When you put us in a position to be an informant, it will go one of two ways: 1) we will tell you what you want to hear at the expense of being truthful. We are so scared to hurt you that we will say anything to make you feel better about yourself, or 2) we will shut down and not tell you anything because we feel betrayed that you have asked us to be the conduit of information for what happens at mom’s house. Can’t you just respect that it is difficult enough for us to go back-and-forth between two different homes, with two different styles of parenting, much less have to worry that we will be interrogated about the other parent’s house? Either way that we react, our relationship with you becomes less pure when you put us in this investigative position.

4. Do not use us as pawns. We are not chess pieces. Do you really want your children to grow up feeling used, manipulated and duped? This is how we feel when you use us as leverage against the other parent. And if you think we do not know that you do it, you are wrong.

5. Do not overshare. No matter our age, we do not need to know every dirty detail. We may ask you to tell us. In fact, we may beg you to tell us everything and say we want to know why you hate dad and why you filed for divorce. The reality is, however, no matter how awful or hurtful dad’s behavior was to you, you still chose him to be our other parent. So, be careful how much you share with us. If you need to talk to someone, please see a therapist or confide in a close friend. We are children; we are not therapists.

If you are going through a divorce and you have children, it is important that you have an attorney who is sensitive to the needs of your children and encourages you to continually put your children first. If you wish to speak with an attorney at our office, please call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free thirty (30) minute office consultation..

-Attorney Madeleine Olmstead


Addressing the Unexpected During a Divorce Proceeding

Shocking news.The recent events involving Lamar Odom’s hospitalization, which had the unexpected result of Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom petitioning the court to dismiss the couples divorce action, highlights how stressful divorce can be for many couples. Kardashian explained that this request to halt the divorce was to make medical decisions on Odom’s behalf after the former NBA player was found unconscious in a brothel in Nevada in October.

There are many reasons a couple may consider either dropping a divorce action, or putting the action on hold. Medical emergencies, such as Lamar Odom’s, may occur and incapacitate a party, their children, or family members. Courts must weigh circumstances that may a delay in the legal proceeding, such as medical emergencies, with an individual’s rights to have his or her legal matter addressed in a timely manner. This can easily affect how the divorce action proceeds, as well as the timeline for conclusion.

On the other hand, a couple may decide that they would like attempt to save their marriage and reconcile. In Wisconsin, that couple can submit to the court a Stipulation and Order to suspend proceedings to effect reconciliation. This document would request that the court allow up to 90 days for the parties to try and save their marriage with the intent end the divorce proceedings. After the 90 days, the parties must then notify the court as to whether or not they wish to proceed with the divorce. Further, a couple can request that the Court dismiss the divorce action at any time before the divorce is finalized.

Lamar Odom’s situation also highlights the importance for any party, at the start of a divorce action, to consider who they want to make financial or medical decisions for them if they were to become incapacitated. This may require a party to amend their powers of attorneys accordingly. If an individual were to suddenly become incapacitated during the pendency of a contentious divorce, they may no longer wish to have their spouse make such important decisions on their behalf.

Any individual who facing similar circumstances during their divorce or family law action, should feel confident that his or her attorney can offer legal solutions throughout the entirety of the legal action, regardless of whatever unique circumstances are involved. If you are facing this difficult situation, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Issues Remain Unresolved Regarding Same-Sex Divorce in Wisconsin

Businessman stress, ripping up partner word on paperOne year ago this June, federal Judge Barbara Crabb overturned Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage. Along with the advent same-sex marriage in Wisconsin came the inevitable issue of same-sex divorce in Wisconsin. However, because of the laws on divorce in Wisconsin, same-sex divorce presents some very distinct issues.

These issues are addressed in an article by Jim Stingl in the Journal Sentinel, found here:

As mentioned in this article, one question looming over same-sex divorce involves the award maintenance, or alimony, which often requires a consideration of the length of a marriage. While there were no same-sex marriages in Wisconsin until June 6, 2014 (when the ban on same-sex marriage was overturned), many other states, as well as Canada, have allowed same-sex marriage for several years. So the questions remains, when will the Court consider a marriage that occurred previous to June 6, 2014, outside the state’s jurisdiction, to have begun? On the date of their actual marriage, or on the date Wisconsin legally recognized that marriage? There certainly appears to be some confusion among judges, which would have a direct effect on a court’s ruling for maintenance.

Another important issue is the marital presumption, and whether the courts will extend the marital presumption to children of same sex couples. Currently, the law states that the husband is presumed to be the father of any child born to the wife during the marriage.  However, it is unsettled as to whether children born to same sex married couples would be ‘presumed’ by the State of Wisconsin to be children of both parties. This may also evoke similar timing questions as to when and if Wisconsin will extend this presumption to same-sex couples married outside the state’s jurisdiction.

The legal community is anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling later this month regarding whether states must allow same-sex marriage and recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdiction will provide courts with some guidance. Until then, this unique issue remains unsettled with the Wisconsin courts, and open for interpretation. Moreover, because this issues remains unsettled with the courts, it can also leave divorces finalized during this time vulnerable to post-judgment litigation in the future.

These issues regarding custody, placement and support of children, maintenance, and property division, should be at the forefront of any divorce discussion. Any individual seeking a divorce should choose an attorney who understands the unique issues involving same-sex marriage and divorce, and who is prepared to guide her client through the divorce process. If you are facing this difficult situation, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

Wisconsin Legislators Taking on the Issue of Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn refers to the practice of ex-lovers or ex-spouses sending or posting compromising or romantic photos of their former significant other to a (or multiple) third party in order to humiliate that person. This practice has become alarmingly popular on social media networks and electronic communication.

This is something that family lawyers see all too often in cases. Ex-lovers or ex-spouses sparring with each other over social media, and crossing the line of exposing personal and private moments. Most often we see instances where the photographs were consensual photographs when taken, however when the parties break-up, they are used to harm someone. Obviously, this is without consent of the harmed party. While we vehemently advise clients against engaging in this practice for many reasons, there is no current law that deals with this issue.

Wisconsin lawmakers are looking to change that.

Under current law, anyone who possesses, reproduces or distributes an image of a nude person that was captured without that person’s consent faces a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of $10,000 in fines and three-and-a-half years in prison. This is seen in family law cases of, for example, stalking and restraining orders.

Under the “Revenge porn bill”, anyone who disseminates a nude picture without the subject’s consent, regardless of whether the subject granted consent to capture the image, would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail. This bill, if signed into law, would prohibit the specific instance discussed above.

On Tuesday, November 12, 2013, the Wisconsin Assembly passed this proposed law with ease. The state Senate will review the Revenge porn bill next, but not until after the new year.

Prohibited by law or not, we strongly discourage ex-lovers and ex-spouses from using private photos against each other, even if they were consensual photos when taken. Participating in revenge porn, or other harmful social media practices could effect custody and placement determinations by the court. Please see our previous blog for more on related social media issues in family law.

Same Sex Marriage in Wisconsin

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of same sex marriage in two high profile cases. The results of those cases has changed the laws regarding same sex marriage in many jurisdictions throughout the United States and how our federal government views those marriages.

In Wisconsin, our laws continue to prohibit same sex marriage. The impact, however, of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions has made issues involving rights of many married same sex couples in Wisconsin more complicated and confusing when it comes to their federal rights.

In one of the decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (1996) (“DOMA”) that says that marriage must be between a man and a woman. As a result, the federal government cannot refuse benefits to same sex couples who are legally married and reside in a state that allows the same.

Unfortunately, each federal agency/program has their own rules to grant rights and benefits to married same sex couples who reside in states which do not allow such marriages. As a result, there is a lot of inconsistency as to how federal rights and benefits are awarded to same sex couples who are legally married in one state, but reside in a state that does not recognize such a marriage. The decision to award such federal rights and benefits is then based on whether the agency/program follows the “Place of Domicile” rule or “Place of Celebration” rule. It is important for such couples to know their rights.

Presently, there are 13 states that allow same sex couples the right to marry. It is common, however, for couples to move between states or marry in one state and live in another. As a result, there are many couples whose legal status and right to benefits come into legal question.

While Wisconsin does not allow same sex marriage, if you are married legally in a state that does allow such a marriage and you then move to Wisconsin, it is important to know your federal rights as a spouse. Further, spouses should consider registering with the Wisconsin State Domestic Partnership Registry which currently entitles those spouses to 43 rights within Wisconsin, including for example, the right to spousal privilege in legal proceedings, Family Medical Leave Act benefits, etc.

Married same sex couples in Wisconsin should consult with appropriate legal counsel to address estate planning issues, issues involving common children, and other property related issues.

Should such a marriage deteriorate to the point of divorce, it is also important to consult with a family law attorney knowledgeable in this field to discuss legal options to terminate a marriage even if the State of Wisconsin does not legally recognize that marriage.

Family Law from the Voices of Students

I recently spoke to a group of high school seniors during their Government class. The class was studying a unit on courts, attorneys, judges and other legal proceedings, so a friend of mine thought it would be informative for his class to hear from a practicing attorney.

I remember the attention I paid (or lack thereof) when I was in high school to a guest speaker, so I went in with the expectation that I would do forty-five minutes of speaking and maybe interest one student enough that (s)he would ask a question regarding family law. Well, I was wrong.

The students were between the ages of seventeen and eighteen and were surprisingly intrigued by what I do. So much so, that I was asked many questions that I did not have time to answer. I quickly realized as we began our discussions that it is not just people who come in to our office who deal with family law issues on a day-to-day basis. Even though I was speaking to students, family law is a relatable topic to them as well. I found it very interesting as to which topics interested the students.

The most common questions I answered were related to situations regarding “friends” of the students. Below are two of the examples of the questions I answered:

1. My friend got someone pregnant and even though he has a positive paternity test showing he is the father, his ex-girlfriend won’t let him see his kid. What can he do so he can have some time with his kid?

Depending on if the child or mother are receiving aid from the state (for birthing expenses, food stamps, and otherwise), the State may begin a paternity action on its own motion. However, if Paternity has been established through DNA testing and the State is not involved, then the father may file an action with the court to establish paternity. Either way, the father and mother are required to attend an initial paternity hearing where temporary orders would be made regarding placement, custody, child support, past-due child support, birthing expenses, health insurance coverage, tax exemption, and the child’s last name.

A lot can happen at an initial hearing, so I recommended preparing and progressing through these proceedings with the help of an attorney. Many young parents meet with attorneys after an initial paternity hearing, and often times it is as a reaction to receiving a negative ruling in Court. As you may suspect, it is much harder for an attorney to backtrack and modify “negative orders” then it is for someone to get an attorney at the beginning stages, where the attorney can be proactive and prepare a client correctly for the first and all hearings in these types of matters.

2. My friend’s parents got a divorce because my friend’s Mom cheated on her Dad. Her Dad keeps telling her Mom “I’m going to take you to the cleaners, the Judge is going to give me everything because you were unfaithful to me!”

It is very common, as a child of divorce, to experience and be witness to high emotions when your parents marriage is deteriorating due to one parent, or both, having an affair.

Wisconsin is a no-fault state, and therefore the wife’s affair is not something the Court will prioritize, or sometimes even consider, in making decisions on his divorce. In order to get a divorce in Wisconsin the court only needs to find that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” and that the wife is not currently pregnant.*

The only possible exception to this is when there are children involved and the parents are arguing about placement and custody (legal decision-making) of them. In this instance, a parent may argue that the children are being harmed by a new relationship. Then, a Guardian Ad Litem–an attorney who advocates for the “best interests of the children”–will likely be appointed by the Court. That attorney may take into consideration the wife’s behavior if, for example, it is not in the best interests of the children.

The lesson I learned from my experience is that teens are very interested in family law and that they are as affected as much, if not more, than adults by a divorce or paternity.


-Madeleine Thompson-Davies

*Please see our blog on marital presumption in Wisconsin (here) to better understand why the wife must not be pregnant at the time of divorce.


Can I Obtain Cell Phone Records or Text Messages in a Divorce in Wisconsin?

When people suspect that their spouse is cheating, they often ask if we can obtain their cell phone records to prove it.

If you are looking for documentation regarding telephone calls, this is readily available via subpoena but meaningless.  A phone call proves nothing.  However, now we are seeing more requests to obtain copies of text messages.  While it seems like this would be a simple task involving a subpoena and a small fee, the truth is that it is nearly impossible to preserve and obtain text messages directly from the carrier.

You may be able to get a log or history of text messaging details (date, time, number) fairly easily. However, most carriers only save the content of text messages for a period of 48-72 hours.  After this time, the text messages are forever purged from the server or database.  The amount of storage required to save every text message sent from every cell phone user prohibits retention of these messages for more than a short period of time.  In order for the carrier to save messages for more than their specified period, they need to be aware of the requirement to preserve the messages.  Every carrier differs in their expectation, but to save messages it requires that an attorney send a preservation letter to the carrier.  This preservation letter informs the carrier that it is necessary for them to retain the messages for greater than a 48-72 hour period.  Most carriers will only “preserve” the messages for two weeks.  If it is necessary to preserve texts for a longer period of time, numerous preservation letters are required.  Some carriers will honor preservation letters sent from an attorney.  Other carriers require a subpoena issued or signed by a judge or court official.  You would have to contact your carrier’s legal department on their requirements for preserving and certifying text messages.

A subpoena of text messages requires a proactive approach which, depending on your reasons for the text messages, may prove to be cost prohibitive or irrelevant.   The question then becomes, why do you want these records?  In Wisconsin, we have a no fault state.  It is completely irrelevant in a divorce that your spouse was cheating in your case.

If you suspect your spouse is cheating, the appropriate response is to confront your spouse and/or get into counseling, either individual or marital, immediately.  If counseling does not work or is not an option, then you need to consider whether you want to file for divorce.  If you file for divorce, you need to accept that Wisconsin is a no fault state and move on to the issues in your case rather than focus on adultery or alleged adultery which is not going to be relevant in your case.  Focus on making sure you that you and your children are protected in your divorce and that you obtain the best possible result for yourself.  Hire an experienced divorce attorney to assist you in this.

To discuss a divorce in Wisconsin, contact our office at 414-258-1644 to scheduled your free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.

10 Do’s and Don’ts in a Wisconsin Divorce

  • DO NOT ignore communication from your attorney or the Court.  Although, at times, the frequency of communication may be overwhelming or stressful, it is important that you promptly review email and letters and respond to those and all phone calls.
  • DO know that one attorney cannot represent both parties in a family law matter.  If your spouse has hired an attorney, it is in your best interests to do the same.
  • DO promptly update your attorney’s office with changes in your contact information.  If you move or obtain a new phone number or email address, advise your attorney’s office immediately, so that they can keep in contact with you.
  • DO NOT assume that your attorney is aware of all issues within your case unless you advise them.  In order to minimize your legal costs, your attorney may assume a “no news is good news” approach.  In other words, if your attorney does not hear from you, they will assume that you do not have a legal need.  If you have questions or concerns, contact your attorney at any time.
  • DO NOT be ashamed if you need counseling or psychological help to deal with the stress and pain of a divorce.  Seeking help to ease you through the process may be one of the best decisions that you make in your case!
  • DO keep copies of all updated financial documents regarding your income, assets and debts.  Make sure that you provide your attorney with copies on a regular basis.
  • DO update your Financial Disclosure Statement whenever changes occur! This is especially important if you change jobs during the pendency of the case.
  • DO NOT discuss your divorce case with your children or allow anyone else to do so!  Your children should never be aware of court proceedings or issues in the case.  It is in your children’s best interests to be protected from the details of your divorce.
  • DO support your children’s relationship with their other parent.  Sometimes, this can be emotionally difficult, but all children benefit from a relationship with both parents.
  • DO work with your attorney to ensure the best possible outcome in your divorce case.  As your attorney, it is our job to educate our clients regarding the law to help you set realistic goals supported by law and help you make smart legal decisions.  In order to successfully proceed through your divorce, ask questions, listen to advice from your lawyer, respond to communication, attend all scheduled appointments and hearings, provide all requested information.  If you do this, you will be a prime position to protect your legal rights and survive your divorce case without unnecessary emotion or financial cost.

To schedule a free initial office consultation to discuss your divorce or alternatives, please contact us at 414-258-1644 or visit our website for further information.

-Alison H.S. Krueger

Discussing Your Divorce With Others

A recent Dear Abby column caught my attention (2nd letter):

DEAR ABBY: Please pass along this suggestion to your readers: If you’re separated or getting a divorce, use discretion if you’re tempted to talk about it.  The more you bad-mouth the person you are divorcing, the more people will reject you. It may not seem fair, but it’s true. People will “forget” that you never complained before and say, “I didn’t know she was so vindictive. No wonder he left!”  You will do yourself additional damage by ranting to co-workers. You’re paid to work, not talk. Your co-workers are paid to work, not listen.

. . .

Your pain will linger for months, but the patience of your friends and co-workers will fade. My co-worker managed to bore all of us. She quit therapy to spend the money redecorating her home to “erase him from her life.” Not only did she lose all sympathy in that shortsighted, shallow act, she also lost precious time she should have spent healing and becoming strong and independent.


So, how are you supposed to behave when faced with a divorce?  Are you supposed to discuss your divorce with others?  Of course!  Sometimes, you just need to talk about it.  Sometimes, you are so angry, your feelings spill out.  That is understandable but “Tired” does have a point.

The very first, and most important, thing to remember is to not talk about your feelings or express your anger to or in front of your kids!  I cannot stress enough how much damage you can do to your children by engaging in this type of behavior.  People think that children, especially older children, “have the right to know” what is going on.  Or, they talk to their children instead of friends or family because they are the closest to the situation.  Even if kids ask, they do not need to know the details of your divorce.  They are not mature enough to handle that kind of information, even if you think they are.

I think the point of the Dear Abby letter is not that you shouldn’t talk to your friends or family but that you should be careful of what and how much you share.  If you are having trouble dealing with the situation or of letting go of your anger, you should seek counseling or a support group to help you deal with your divorce.  While friends and family are a good source to “vent to” once in a while, they are not trained professionals and cannot help you move forward with your life.

You should also not share with strangers or in your workplace.  Let’s face it, they really don’t want to know all the gory details.  This creates an uncomfortable situation for them and you may regret it down the road.  Do you really want casual or business acquaintances knowing the intimate details of your life?  Once you calm down, you will realize probably not and will regret the details you have shared.

I have heard stories over the years – people who call their spouse’s boss to share “what they did”.  Or, even worse, telling teachers or daycare professionals the details of the break-up.  You might think that you are trying to get people on your side which will generate sympathy for you but what you are really doing is making everyone uncomfortable and creating possible unforeseen circumstances.  You could, for example, cause your spouse to lose their job which will hurt you and your children in the long run when there is no income to pay support.  Or, you could lose your daycare provider because they don’t want to be put in the middle of you and your spouse.  You could also have difficulty in a custody or placement dispute if you are seen putting your own needs above those of your children. I have seen all of these things happen.

Keep in mind that how you deal with your divorce will create long-term consequences for you and/or your children.  No one blames you for being upset or angry.  But, you do not need share the details of your divorce with everyone around you which could be damaging to you, your career, your relationships and your children.  Think before you speak and if you are having difficulty doing that, seek counseling or support from a professional.

Teri M Nelson

New Protections in Wisconsin for Domestic Violence Victims

Governor Scott Walker signed several new bills into law this week which grant greater protection for domestic violence victims.

One law- called the TraJa Act- was named after Tracy Judd and her daughter Deja who were murdered in a domestic violence incident in Madison in 2009.   This law makes a third domestic violence conviction within 10 years a felony and gives judges the ability to impose harsher penalties on repeat domestic violence offenders.  It also expands the definition of a repeat offender as someone who commits domestic violence within 72 hours of a prior domestic violence arrest.  Another bill which was signed also allows judges to treat committing an act of domestic violence in front of a child as an aggravating factor during sentencing.

Gov. Walker also signed into law a measure which allows victims of domestic violence and stalking to keep a name change confidential.  Current law requires that public notice be published prior to a name change.

For more information about how to obtain restraining orders to protect against domestic violence, please see our website.

Divorce Headlines – Week of April 2, 2012

In researching blog topics this week, I ran across two headline cases.  Both deal with a divorce in a unique way.

The first headline was that Heidi Klum filed for divorce from Seal.  Celebrity divorces are nothing new.  They fascinate us because they are windows into the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Money can’t buy happiness – whether in life and marriage.  In fact, the stress of a high-profile life seems to make success at marriages even more difficult than that of most people.  This case, in particular, seems to be attracting interest only because the couple seemed happy with no outward signs of trouble.  They still are refusing to release details, for the sake of their children.  Thank goodness some celebrities still have integrity and case about the welfare of their children above all else.

The second headline which I found is controversial in the extreme.  A Maryland court denied the request for a divorce to two lesbians based on their same-sex marriage.  Maryland does not allow same-sex marriage but the couple was married in California during the period when same-sex marriage was legal.

Without commenting on the specifics of this issue, I will only say that the law often does not keep up with social developments or even technological developments, for that matter.  When sweeping changes occur in society or technology, it often takes years for the courts to catch up.  In the interim period, we have a sort of limbo in which individuals get caught up with no way to address specific issues.  Unfortunately, the victims of this can sometimes be children such as when surrogacy or in vitro fertilization was in its infancy.

In Wisconsin, we tend to be more conservative in our laws, especially as they relate to divorce and family law.  As an experienced divorce attorney at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC, I would say that the family law courts in Wisconsin in particular tend to be conservative in their rulings.  This avoids these types of ground-breaking legal issues which often take years to resolve.