Sara’s Law: A Law Intended to Protect Family Law Attorneys in Wisconsin

Family law is a unique area of law, often accompanied by an overabundance of emotions. Strong emotions typically tie in with family matters such as divorce, child custody and placement issues, and maintaining the co-parenting relationship for divorced or separated parents. It is not surprising that there are certain risks inherent with the officers of the court (attorneys, judges, guardian ad litems, etc.) involved in family law matters.

A tragic example is the story of Sara Quirt Sann, a Schofield, Wisconsin family law attorney. Quirt Sann, along with three other individuals (Everest Metro Police Detective Jason Weiland and Marathon Savings Bank employees Dianne Look and Karen Barclay) were killed on March 22, 2017 when Nengmy Vang carried out a violent attack on Quirt Sann’s office. Quirt Sann had been representing Vang’s wife in a divorce.

Quirt Sann’s story prompted the drafting of Wisconsin Act 272, colloquially referred to as “Sara’s Law” in memory of Quirt Sann. Sara’s Law was enacted on April 11, 2018 and makes it a Class H felony in the state of Wisconsin to harm or threaten to harm a current or former guardian ad litem, corporation counsel, attorney, or any of their family. Sara’s Law further specifies that the harm or threat of harm is in response to an action taken during a proceeding or other action that affects the family (i.e. a “family law” proceeding). Until Sara’s Law, threats made against family lawyers were not treated the same as judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers.

If a person is convicted under Sara’s Law, it would mean they are guilty of a Class H felony, which could result in the mandatory surrendering of weapons, a $10,000 fine, and up to six years in prison.

Sara’s Law is the first of its kind in the United States, and could prove to be indicative of a trend in American law to recognize and address the intrinsic risks with practicing an area of law so wrought with emotion. The attorneys at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC are sensitive to the psychological and emotional tolls of family law, and are skilled in navigating these difficult matters. 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 experienced attorneys.  Or, for more information, visit our website at



Can I Appeal My Divorce Decision in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, a judge entering orders regarding divorce or other family issues has great discretion.  There are statutory guidelines they must follow but there are very few laws that they cannot deviate from for just cause.  Family court is a court of equity which means that the judge is required to enter orders that are fair and equitable to both parties.  This gives the judge wide latitude when making decisions in family cases in Wisconsin.

You always have the right to appeal a decision, which must be done within a certain time period following the entry of order.  The time period varies based on certain factors but, generally, between 45 to 90 days.  In Wisconsin, cases first are heard by the Court of Appeals which consists of a panel of 3 judges in different districts around the state.  An appeal can take up to a year to complete.

However, due to the discretion granted to family court judges in Wisconsin, it is very difficult to win an family law appeal unless the judge made a mistake or entered an order which was clearly erroneous.  The most common mistake that a judge can make is that he or she fails to make sufficient findings which would support his or her decision.  Or, that the judge misunderstood or misapplied the law.

This is rare and even if you win your appeal, the court of appeals cannot substitute its own orders for the circuit judges.  This means that while the appellate court will provide some guidance or direction based on its interpretation of the law regarding the issues, it will simply remand the case, or send it back, to the circuit court to correct its mistake.  Therefore, even if you “win” your appeal, the case is still not over and the results are not guaranteed.  For example, after getting the case back, the judge could enter the same order(s) but with more specific findings.  If the judge clearly made an error, however, you may end up with a different order or findings.

The time and expense of an appeal is rarely worth it on a family case.  Most family law attorneys are unwilling to even appeal a case.  You should consult with your attorney or another attorney who is experienced in appellate work to determine whether your case is likely to succeed on appeal and, if so, what the cost would be.  Based on that, you could then decide if you wish to pursue an appeal.