The In’s and Out’s of Electronic Filing in Wisconsin

 

In most counties in Wisconsin, electronic filing (“eFiling”) is now mandatory. So, if you do not know about it yet, it’s time to learn the in’s and out’s of eFiling.

To participate in eFiling, you must set up an account.  This applies whether you are an attorney or self-represented litigant. Once you have an account, you are able to “opt-in” to current cases, or begin an initial filing. To do either of these, you need to enter the case information, upload the documents you wish to file and pay the required fee.  Most files are required to be in PDF format.  Be sure to click through and follow all of the steps, as you will see confirmation of filing if you have done it correctly. If you click out of the screen before you receive confirmation of filing, you likely have not properly filed the document.

Some of the benefits of eFiling are that it saves time, may save money and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This type of accessibility allows you to view your eFiled case at any time by logging into the eFiling website.  You also receive electronic notice of any document filed in your case by the other party as soon as the Court receives it in.  Proponents of eFiling indicate that it will also “decrease data entry, improve the speed with which information can be retrieved and shared, reduce staff time and storage costs, and improve storage security.”

eFiling also changes public access to a court file. The public can still access public records on computers in the offices of the clerks and registers in the courthouse. As for confidential records, only authorized individuals can request a temporary access code that will allow them to look at files in the courthouse. The clerk or register will print copies on request at the current price per page.

One of the more unattractive effects of eFiling is that the court loses the oversight it previously had for accepting and rejecting filings. While there is still an ability for the clerk to reject a filing once filed, there is no current ability to stop the filing at the onset. Another difficulty is the simple fact that it’s a new system. So, it is not uncommon to encounter errors or delay along the way as the persons tasked with navigating this new system attempt to efficiently guide the eFiling users. While the eFiling system is still a constant work-in-progress at this early stage, the benefits seem to be outweigh the occasional frustration.

If you have additional questions about eFiling, the Wisconsin Court System website has created a “Frequently Asked Questions” page that provides helpful responses for new users. You can access that site here:  https://wicourts.gov/ecourts/efilecircuit/faq.htm.  Many people may be intimidated by this process when trying to file divorce on their own.  However, clerks are generally available at the courthouse to assist you in this process.

If you have other questions related to filing a matter, please feel free to contact our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free ½ hour consultation with one of our attorneys.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Honest with Your Family Law Attorney

More often than not, people hire family law attorneys during a difficult time in their lives. Understandably, some of the facts that may lead you to seek counsel may not be easy to discuss with an attorney. However, it is imperative for the attorney who is representing you to know all aspects of your case and for you to be honest with your divorce or family law attorney.

In the early stages of a case, the attorneys in our firm will often ask “What would the other party tell me about you if they were sitting in my office today?” The reason we ask this question is to find out any negative or difficult facts in a case that will likely come up during litigation. Your advocate counsel needs to be informed of all potential issues that you are aware of, so that we can properly advise you of what next steps should be taken to benefit you throughout your case. More importantly, if there is a “bad fact”, your attorney can address it proactively.  We will not judge you or think poorly of you but we do need to know of any issues which may negatively impact you in a divorce so we can assist you in addressing these issues.

An example of this would be if someone came into our office and admitted to being an alcoholic if they have minor children. With that knowledge, we can advise our client to seek treatment, attend meetings and hopefully be in a position to provide proof of a solid period of sobriety by the time this issue would make its way into court. If we are not made aware of this issue and/or if the first time we hear of this issue is in court from the other attorney or party, we will not be in a great position to defend this allegation or to show what steps have been taken to address this concern. In this example, if your attorney knows about your condition, she can be honest with the court about your issues and, more importantly, she can tell the court what you are doing (or have done) about it.  When your attorney knows all facts, good and bad she is able to control how the information gets into the court.

It is also important that you continue to update your attorney throughout your case, even if those updates are difficult to discuss. Using the example of the client who is an alcoholic, it may be the case that the client relapses during the pendency of the action and is too embarrassed to tell his/her counsel. The fact is, not telling your attorney “bad” facts is far worse than sitting through an uncomfortable conversation with your attorney about mistakes you have made. Once the information is disclosed, you and your attorney can brainstorm ways to address the issues. The court is likely to find out about it anyway.  You want your attorney to control how this information is presented to the court.  The only way for that to happen is for you to be 100% honest and open with your attorney.

There also may be situations where you do not want to disclose certain information.  Your conversations with your attorney are 100% protected by client confidentiality rules and your attorney must not reveal any information given to her in confidence.  However, if presented with all of the facts, your attorney can either discuss with you ways to protect this information, explain to you why it must be disclosed (in the instance of financial information) or, again, find the best way to disclose this information in a way that is most beneficial to you and your case.

As attorneys, we cannot protect clients from their actions that may negatively affect their case. If a client continues to take actions that negatively affect his/her case, despite the advice of his/her attorney, it may result in a situation where the attorney no longer believes they can represent that client’s interests. However, if clients are honest with us throughout the process and listen to the advice we give to them, we are in a better position to help advocate for our client’s interests.

If you wish to speak with an attorney about a difficult family matter, please feel free to call our office at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.

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.