Tips for Divorced Co-Parents Before the School Year Begins

For parents with children, summer is often a time to relax and recharge before another busy school year begins. One of the best things you can do for your children who are traveling between two homes is to use the summer time to work with the other parent to prepare for the upcoming school year.

  1. If you have a different schedule in the summer vs. the school year, be sure to have a clearly defined “school year” placement schedule and “summer” placement schedule in your legal paperwork. That way, both parents know definitively when to switch from one schedule to the other. A suggestion: “the school year will be defined as one (1) week before school begins, not including the first day of school, until one (1) week after school ends, not including the last day of school.”
  2. Depending on how old your children are and how your children are doing in school, discuss strategies for how you will stay on top of homework, studying and assignments at each of the households. While it is great if parents could be on the same page with all of this, many parents who have separated “parent” differently. For example, in one home it may be the rule that all homework must be done right after school before you can play outside, etc. Whereas, in the other home the rule may be that you can play outside right when you get home from school, but you cannot watch any TV after dinner until all of your homework is done. While it would be best to have the children have the same routines at both homes, that may not be achievable. So, it is important that the children at least have the same expectations (i.e. homework must be completed before bed) at both homes and that the parents are committed to be on the same page for that big picture goal.
  3. Make sure that you decide how involved your children will be in extracurricular and/or school-related activities before the school year begins. Many parents in Wisconsin have joint custody, which means you have equal rights to make major legal decisions, including decisions about school, for your children. Therefore, it is important to connect with the other parent before school/activities begin to make sure you are on the same page with how involved or uninvolved your children will be after school and on the weekends. This is particularly important when one parent wishes to sign a child up for a sport that may have practice every day and tournaments/games on weekends. That almost always means that some of the scheduled activities fall over the other parent’s time, which needs to be approved by that parent. By working this all out ahead of time, you protect your children from conflict or from having to be involved in a disagreement between the parents where ultimately one parent becomes the “bad guy” to the children. The “bad guy” is usually the parent who is not in agreement with the activity the child wants to do- even if there are valid reasons for disagreement.
  4. Prepare early on for how you will successfully spare the school staff and coaches from uncomfortable encounters with you and the other parent. For example, if one parent cannot or does not behave appropriately around the other parent, discuss early (and privately) with your children’s teachers that each parent will be scheduling their own parent/teacher conference. If one parent cannot or does not behave appropriately around the other parent at your child’s soccer game, divvy out the games as soon as the schedule comes out and plan to attend only games that the other parent will not be attending. In an ideal situation, ex-spouses will be able to be around each other and behave appropriately for the sake of their children. However, this is not always the case. So, it is important to strategize ways to avoid putting your children or their teachers/coaches in uncomfortable situations.

 

If you wish to speak with an attorney about co-parenting strategies and helpful ways to address these issues in legal documents, please call our office at 414-258-1644 for a free ½ hour consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.

Marital Assets Often Overlooked in Divorce

Wisconsin is a marital property state, which means that all assets and debts that are a part of the martial estate are subject to a fifty-fifty division in divorce. Generally, it is fairly simple to identify marital assets and to determine how to fairly divide them. However, couples may overlook certain intangible assets when they are dividing the marital estate in their divorce.

Intangible assets may include credit card reward points, travel miles or hotel points, which are accrued during the marriage. Dividing these assets could be tricky given that they can be tied to the individual who was doing the traveling or tied to the credit card holder. One of the first steps to take when you and your spouse have credit card rewards, hotel points, or travel miles is to contact the company to determine their policy in dividing these assets. Remember, there may be fees associated with dividing these assets, so keep that in mind in determining how you would like to proceed. It is also important to keep in mind that some companies will not divide these rewards into two separate accounts.

However, many companies may assign a monetary value to the rewards points or travel miles.  If they do, you can determine if a buy-out of the other spouse’s interest in those rewards is the best option.  It may also prove helpful to assign a value to these rewards to gain a better perspective of how much you wish to argue over these assets. Determining the value may be difficult when the company that you have these rewards or points through does not assign a value.  In this case you may need help agreeing upon a value of these assets.

You may also want to consider how these assets were accumulated. For example, if you and your spouse have accrued a large amount of travel miles because you have a child attending college in another state, then agreeing to allocate the travel miles for the use of your child’s travel may be a creative way to resolve the conflict in dividing the travel miles. Or, perhaps there simply can be an agreement that the other spouse can use the miles to book a certain number of trips and how that will occur.

Another often overlooked asset are stock options or restricted stock options offered by one spouse’s employer. It is unusual for these options to be split between the parties, and usually requires either a buy-out of the value of the stock.  However, it can be very difficult to determine such value, or determining a method which would allow the non-employee spouse an opportunity to exercise the stock option through the employee spouse. There are several factors which also must be considered when dividing stock options, especially the tax consequences for both parties in exercising the options.

Another asset unique to Wisconsin that can be overlooked are Packers season tickets. It is common that season tickets be passed down generation to generation, and to be a highly coveted asset by Packers fans. If a spouse acquires Packers season tickets during the marriage, then those tickets are also subject to division as a marital asset, as they can stay in the family for years.

If you believe that you or your spouse have the types of assets as those mentioned above, or that you believe you need help identifying these assets and dividing them in your divorce, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

The Role of Guardians ad Litem in Family Court Matters

In family court matters, a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is an attorney who is appointed by the Judge to represent the concept of the “Best Interest of the Child.” This is different and easily confused with “representing the child.” It is important that the GAL provides the child the opportunity to have a voice and make that child’s voice known. However, it is equally as important that the GAL make it clear to the parties and the child that the child does not have the benefit or the burden of making the choice in these matters.

Further (and unlike a mediator), the GAL does not have to remain neutral in a matter. This means that the GAL’s recommendation may align with one parent’s position and not the other parent’s if the independent evaluation and investigation that was conducted by the GAL leads him/her to that position.

The appointed GAL has a duty to be a part of and approve all decisions that impact custody, placement, paternity, support, sharing of variable expenses, tax exemptions, school attendance, therapy, daycare, health care, transportation, extracurricular activities, insurance, uninsured expenses, child support or any other issue which affects the best interests of the child.

While the GAL is expected to advocate for the best interests of the child, the GAL is not expected to be a private investigator, social worker, therapist, etc. As a legal advocate, the GAL may file motions on behalf of the best interest of the child, referring the child or other members of the family to therapy or counseling, or requesting psychological evaluations of the parties and/or the child.

The GAL should convey recommendations to the parties and/or their counsel before court (if possible) and should provide a brief status of the work that is being done on the case at each court appearance.

The GAL should work with the parties to attempt to resolve the issues related to the children outside of court, as there are almost no circumstances where a trial on these issues is in the best interests of the child.

Since Guardians ad Litem are appointed by the Judge on your matter, you often do not have a say as to which GAL is assigned to your case. However, with any GAL it is important to cooperate with his/her investigation, and to present all information and evidence that you believe the GAL must know in order to make a sound recommendation for the best interests of the child.

If you are considering a court action that will eventually involve a Guardian ad Litem or you are in the middle of a court action involving a Guardian ad Litem, please feel free to contact our office at (414) 258-1644 for a free consultation to discuss how to best prepare for and navigate a GAL investigation.

 

What is a De Novo Review in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, many people may find that their family law matters, or restraining orders, will be heard in front of a court commissioner. This is because the courts are able to delegate this authority in order to more efficiently use the judge’s court calendar. However, if a party believes that a court commissioner gets the decision on their issue or issues incorrect, that party has recourse.

Pursuant to Wisconsin State statutes, any decision of a court commissioner shall be reviewed by the assigned judge, upon a motion of any party.  Essentially this is an appeal of that decision and it is called a “de novo review”, which means the judge will review the issues in a new hearing as though there was never a hearing and ruling by the court commissioner. This motion for a hearing de novo must be made in writing. The judge are supposed to allow both parties to testify again, review all of the evidence, hear witnesses, and then the judge will make a determination on the issues pertaining to the original filing that brought the parties in to court the first time.  However, it is important to note that many judges handle these types of motions much more informally and try to avoid a full second hearing, except for restraining orders, although they are required to do so by law.

There are certain time limits for filing a motion requesting a de novo review, and these limits are set by each county in their local court rules. In general, if your issues are a part of a family court matter (regarding custody, placement, child support, maintenance, contempt, or post judgment issues), the party seeking a de novo review shall usually have about 10 -15 business days, depending on the county in which your case is being heard, from the date the court commissioner signs the order and gives it to the parties at the hearing. If the court commissioner does not give each party and attorney present a written copy of that order, then the party seeking a de novo review may have a different time period from the date of mailing the order.  If you believe that the court commissioner’s order is unfair, it is extremely important to ask at the time of the hearing what the time period for a request for a de novo review is in that county and to file that request as soon as possible following the hearing.

If a party is seeking a de novo review of an order involving the granting or dismissal of an injunction (restraining order), there may be a different deadline.  For example, in Milwaukee County, the party seeking the de novo review from a family court commissioner case in a divorce or paternity shall have fifteen (15) days from the date of a hearing, providing they receive a copy of the order immediately, but shall have thirty (30) days after the court commissioner issued the order or ruling in a restraining order. It should be noted that the thirty day deadline includes weekends and holidays but a deadline less than thirty (30) days does not. These slight variations in deadlines make it important to check with your county’s local court rules to ensure that you do not lose your right to request a de novo review.

It may be the most practical to file for a de novo review hearing immediately after your hearing if you believe that the court commissioner made the wrong decision in your matter. If you believe that you need a de novo hearing, or that a party has filed for a de novo hearing in your matter, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.

 

Can My Spouse and I Use a Mediator Instead of Lawyers In Our Divorce?

Mediation - dispute resolution process.

Many people ask if they can use a mediator instead of lawyers in a divorce.  Recent changes by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, redefining the role of a mediator in a divorce action, have caused many people to ask this very question.  In order to determine what is right for you, an understanding of the difference between Lawyer-Mediator and Advocate Attorney is needed.

Typically, a mediator’s role has been to help parties find solutions to disputes from a neutral, third party perspective. Mediation is confidential and scheduled outside of court, so it aims to promote open, honest and unreserved discussion between the parties. Mediators can benefit parties in a divorce by helping suggest constructive alternatives to the positions of each of the parties and to help to find a reasonable solution based on the presentation by both parties. Mediators will sometimes prepare a short and neutral-toned memorandum of the agreement between the parties if agreements are reached. Then, the parties are responsible for ensuring that an agreement is drafted and submitted to the court so that it becomes an order of the court.

Recently, however, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has approved the expansion of the role of a lawyer serving as a mediator.  Specifically, “lawyer-mediators”, are now permitted to draft, modify or file documents confirming, memorializing, and/or implementing the parties’ mediated agreement.  In order to do so, the law requires that the lawyer-mediator maintain neutrality throughout the process and also have the written informed consent of the parties.

As this new rule is rolled out (effective date of July 1, 2017), it is important to understand that lawyer-mediators are not interchangeable with advocate counsel.

In fact, as part of the written “informed consent” that the lawyer-mediator must obtain the lawyer-mediator must inform the parties that it is important to seek independent legal advice before executing any documents prepared by the lawyer-mediator. This is done because the lawyer-mediator cannot assume an advocate role. Therefore, a mediator does not necessarily replace the need for an attorney to advocate for your interests.

By nature, mediators must be neutral.   Mediators are hired to help the parties reach an agreement and not advocate a certain theory or provide advice to the parties.  Therefore,  lawyer mediators may only perform these additional duties allowed under the new rule if it can be done without compromising his or her neutrality and so long as they do not assume an attorney-client relationship with either party.  This means that any document drafted by the lawyer-mediator would need to be a “neutral” document; that the lawyer-mediator shall not attempt to advance the interest of one party at the expense of the other party; and that the lawyer-mediator may not give legal advice to either or both parties while acting in that neutral capacity.

This can lead to issues however, because often times one or both parties do not understand all of the consequences of their decisions. An attorney acting as neutral mediator may attempt to explain these consequences to the parties in mediation but only if they can do so without giving legal advice, without acting as counsel for either party and without compromising his/her neutrality. Practically speaking, this is a very difficult task when many issues impact the parties differently in a family law matter. As is often the case in family law matters a question from one party may have an adverse effect on the other party.  How does a lawyer mediator answer questions without giving legal advice or advocating (albeit innocently) for one party or the other? At Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC, we believe mediation is a valuable tool and resource in many family law matters. As such, we often use the assistance of lawyer-mediators in cases where we need a neutral opinion on unresolved disputes.  However, at all points during the case, and during the mediation, our clients have an advocate who is consistently working to advance your interests and explain the consequences of your decisions.  This is not a benefit afforded to litigants who move forward with mediation without the benefit of advocate counsel.

Lawyer-mediators also cannot act on the behalf of a party in court, cannot assist the parties in court matters such as scheduling or procedure and cannot appear in court with the parties.  Many people are confused and intimidated by the court system.  Advocate counsel can assist you in all aspects related to the court system itself.

So, while lawyer-mediators may assist advocate attorneys greatly in family law matters, they have different roles than advocate attorneys and that should be well understood before the decision is made to use only one or the other.

If you have a family law matter that you wish to discuss with an advocate attorney at our firm, please do not hesitate to call our office at 414-258-1644 to set up a free consultation with one of the attorneys.

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 FindLaw.com, 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:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/09/health/january-divorce-month-matrimony/?iid=ob_homepage_deskrecommended_pool

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.

Post Judgment Modifications and Enforcement of Court Orders in Wisconsin

 

Change ahead warning sign over blue sky

In Wisconsin, spousal support (maintenance/alimony), child support, custody and placement (visitation) arrangements may be modified at any time under certain circumstances.  Situations can change which may require the court to modify your order. A change in financial circumstances may warrant a modification of child support or maintenance; whereas a physical or emotional change in your children, a change in schedule or a move may warrant a modification of placement.   There may also be times where you need the court’s assistance in enforcing orders.  If you have concerns regarding a modification or enforcement of a court order, the experienced lawyers at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC can assist you in evaluating your case and navigate you through the process. Give the a call for your free office consultation.

What changes can warrant a modification?

 There are many situations which may warrant a modification.  The court will look at requests to modify placement and custody differently depending on how long it has been since the original order was made.   When considering a request to modify or change placement the court will look at;

  • Physical or emotional harm to the child
  • Changes in the child(ren)’s behavior and or grades
  • A substance or physical abuse problem
  • Move to a new city or state

When looking at financial modifications (i.e. child support, maintenance or family support), changes in income, job status, graduation of child or placement change may all be reasons to modify an existing order.

What can I do if the other party is not following court orders?

If your ex-spouse is not following the court order, you have options available to you.  Our attorneys are experienced in litigating contempt issues in Milwaukee, Waukesha and the surrounding areas.  There are remedies available to you.  If you are due child support or a medical bill payment, the court can garnish wages or even order jail time for non-compliance.  If placement is being withheld, the law allows for you to be awarded your attorney fees as well as make up time with your child(ren).  Give the attorneys at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC a call at 414-258-1644 to set up a free office consultation to see how we can help you in your post-judgment divorce or family law issue.