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Import Wisconsin Divorce Law Changes: Impact of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Family Law

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in 2017, imposed extensive changes throughout the tax code. A few of those changes directly impact Wisconsin family law litigants and are important to keep in mind, particularly when going through a divorce.

The first, and arguably most drastic change which impacts family law, is the elimination of the deduction for maintenance payments. Maintenance, also commonly referred to as “alimony,” is a monetary payment from one former spouse to the other, for either a limited or indefinite period of time. Prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a former spouse who paid maintenance to the other spouse was allowed to claim a tax deduction from his or her income. Similarly, the recipient spouse of the maintenance was required to report all maintenance payments as taxable income. Under the new law, for any divorce or separation decree executed after December 31, 2018, the payor spouse is not allowed to claim a deduction, and the recipient spouse is no longer required to claim the maintenance as taxable income. This is an important change because prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, many divorce litigants were incentivized to pay maintenance based on the knowledge that they would receive a tax deduction. This incentive no longer exists under the new law, which may make maintenance disputes more prevalent.

The second important change which impacts family law is the elimination of personal exemptions. Prior to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, taxpayers were allowed to claim a $4,050 deduction per qualifying taxpayer, spouse, or dependent. Under the new law, personal exemptions are suspended for the tax years of 2018-2025. Personal exemptions provided tax savings for all filers, but particularly for filers with dependent children. This is an important change for the divorce process because parents going through a divorce typically negotiated as to which parent would be allowed to claim the child(ren) for each tax year.

Although personal exemptions are eliminated under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the child tax credit was doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 for the tax years of 2018-2025. The child tax credit is available for each qualifying child under the age of 17. Although this increase can impact divorcing parents, it does not hold the same negotiation importance during the divorce process as the personal exemption did because the child tax credit is generally only available to the parent who the child lives with for at least six months out of the year.

It is important for family law litigants to keep tax considerations in mind when going through a divorce. If you need help with a divorce, please contact Petit & Dommershausen today and speak to one of our experienced family law attorneys. With three convenient locations in Oshkosh, the Appleton area, and Green Bay, we serve all of northeast Wisconsin including Outagamie, Winnebago, Waupaca, Calumet, Brown, Oconto, Marinette, and Fond du Lac counties.

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Grandparents Rights (Updated 10/09/2019)

Grandparent Rights in Wisconsin

Many states allow at least some form of grandparent visitation, after a determination as to whether such visitation is in the best interests of the child.  However, under a new WI Supreme Court case this process has gotten much more difficult. The first thing the grandparents must prove is that the parents aren’t fit or are unfit to make this decision.   At Petit & Dommershausen, we guide you thru the process to get grandparents a great outcome.

Grandparent Visitation

Parents have fundamental rights to raise their children as they see fit, as long as the children’s basic emotional and physical needs are being met.

A grandparent must file a petition requesting visitation with the court. A judge will schedule a hearing to review the circumstances of the case and allow the child’s parents to respond.

All of the following factors must be present for a judge to grant grandparent visitation:

  • The parent is unfit (this is a difficult standard)
  • the child’s parents are not married, or were married but have subsequently divorced, separated or one parent is deceased
  • the child isn’t adopted (to non-family members)
  • the grandparent has maintained a relationship with the child, or has attempted to maintain a relationship but was prevented by the parent
  • the grandparent is unlikely to act counter to the parent’s decisions regarding the child’s emotional physical, educational or spiritual welfare, and
  • that grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interests.  Most of the time a Guardian ad Litem will be appointed to advise the Judge as to what they think is in the best interests of the child.

Wisconsin courts require all the above elements to be met for grandparent visitation to occur.

The Court will then determine a reasonable amount of visitation.  What constitutes “reasonable visitation” will depend on the unique circumstances of your case.

When Can Grandparents Get Guardianship of a Grandchild?

In some cases, a grandparent may be able to obtain guardianship over a child’s natural parent when it’s necessary to protect the child’s safety or well-being and the parents are unfit to meet the child’s needs.

A court may only award guardianship to a child’s grandparent if the following are true:

  • granting guardianship to the grandparent would serve the child’s best interests, and
  • the parent is unfit or unable to adequately care for the child, or there are other compelling reasons for awarding guardianship to a grandparent.

The experienced and compassionate attorneys at Petit & Dommershausen can help you thru this difficult process. Call Attorney Tajara Dommershausen today to learn more about your rights and get the help you need.

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Pardons in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Governor has reinstated pardon review. Petit & Dommershausen, SC, offers a broad overview of the pardon process based on announced rules and governing law. Questions? Contact us today.

PARDON ELIGIBILITY

An individual is eligible for a pardon only if all of the following conditions apply to them:

  1. Must be for a felony conviction.
    1. However, if a secondary charge is a misdemeanor, it may be reviewed as well.
  2. A defendant must have completed the entire sentence at least five (5) years ago, meaning:
    1. Completed all periods of confinements; and
    2. All supervised release (i.e. probation, parole, and/or extended supervision).
  3. Has not been convicted of any new criminal offenses since completing the sentence and has no pending charges.
    1. This section includes convictions in jurisdictions outside of Wisconsin.
  4. Not currently required to register as a sex offense under Wis. Stat. § 301.45.

Must meet all of eligibility criteria or application will be denied.

Standard an Applicant Must Meet

The applicant must have a significant and documented need, such as:

  1. Employment related;
  2. Educational; and/or
  3. Job training.

Typically, it is inappropriate to apply for a pardon if (1) it is to clear one’s conscience or (2) reinstating one’s firearm rights.

  1. However, a Governor may review such cases if conviction is old and minor.
    1. Minor will depend on Governor’s interpretation of the crime.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of relevant factors when determining whether an application has a significant or documented need:

  1. Age
  2. Seriousness of conviction
  3. Extent of need
  4. Entire criminal record
  5. Applicant’s personal development since crime was committed; and
  6. Community or civic contributions since release.

Interested in learning more about applying for a pardon? Petit & Dommershausen, SC, is a Wisconsin law firm that can help. We regularly practice in Marinette County, Octonto County, Brown County, Door County, Kewaunee County, Outagamie County, Winnebago County, Waupaca County, Waushara County, Calumet County, Fond du Lac County, and Green Lake County. We offer convenient office locations in Appleton, Oshkosh, and Green Bay. We serve all of north east Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin Law: At what age can a child decide which parent they want to live with?

So, you’re either going through a divorce or you already have an existing placement order. Your child is at an age where they have started to express an opinion as to which parent they want to live with or spend the most time with. At what age does the child’s opinion matter?

Under Wisconsin statutes, physical placement orders will be structured to either award shared placement to both parents or primary placement to one parent. Shared placement occurs when both parents have at least 25% of overnights per year. Primary placement occurs when one parent has more than 75% of overnights in a year. Wisconsin law provides that a child is entitled to meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent, unless such an order would endanger the child.

In a contested placement dispute, Courts will typically appoint a Guardian ad Litem for the minor child. A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who advocates for the best interests of the child and makes a recommendation to the court upon conducting an investigation. Under Wisconsin law, the Guardian ad Litem is required to consider the wishes of a minor child, but is not bound by those wishes when making their recommendation to the Court.

Similarly, the Court is required to consider the child’s wishes when determining periods of physical placement. However, the child’s opinion is only one of the many factors that the Court must consider. Among the other factors that the Court is required to consider are: the parents’ wishes, the age of the child, the amount and quality of time the child has spent with each parent in the past, the mental and physical health of the parents and child, etc.

Therefore, there is no specific age in Wisconsin where a child is able to decide which parent they want to live with. A child’s wishes must be considered by both the Guardian ad Litem and the Court once the child reaches an age where they are able to articulate those wishes. However, both the Guardian ad Litem and the Court are also required to consider all factors relevant to the best interests of the child, even if the result is a placement order that is contrary to the child’s wishes.

If you need help with a divorce or custody/placement dispute, please contact Petit & Dommershausen today and speak to one of our experienced family law attorneys. With three convenient locations in Oshkosh, the Appleton area, and Green Bay, we serve all of northeast Wisconsin including Outagamie, Winnebago, Waupaca, Calumet, Brown, Oconto, Marinette, and Fond du Lac counties.

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Can they take your blood if you passed out? “Mitchell v. Wisconsin: Unconscious Drivers and the Implied Consent Law”

                It is common knowledge that those who drive after consuming a sufficient amount of alcohol may be charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI). While investigating an OWI case, it is common for law enforcement officials to ask the driver of the vehicle to submit to a breath and blood test. This is used to determine the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in order to prove whether the person was under the influence while driving.

Wisconsin is an “implied consent” state, which means that by operating a motor vehicle on a highway within the state, the driver has impliedly consented to a test of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining whether there is any detectable amount of alcohol in his or her blood. A driver may refuse to submit to those tests, but he or she may still be prosecuted for a drunk driving related offense and may face additional criminal consequences as well.

The implied consent law has been challenged in various courts, both state and federal, several times in the past. Most recently, one narrow aspect of the law was challenged before the United States Supreme Court in Mitchell v. Wisconsin. In this case, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether law enforcement has the authority under the implied consent law to perform a blood test on a suspected drunk driver who is unconscious and cannot submit to a preliminary breath test without first obtaining a search warrant.

Justice Alito, writing the main opinion for the United States Supreme Court, concluded that the exigent circumstances doctrine almost always permitted law enforcement to perform a blood draw on an unconscious subject without a warrant. The exigent circumstances doctrine allows law enforcement to conduct a search (or here, a blood test) without a warrant when potential key evidence in the investigation could be destroyed before the warrant would be obtained.

So how will this ruling be applied going forward? Wisconsin courts will most likely continue to adopt the policy that in almost every case, a warrantless blood draw can permissibly be performed by law enforcement. However, it is possible that suspected drunk drivers may be able to challenge the results of those tests if they can prove that exigent circumstances did not exist and a warrant could have been obtained prior to the performance of the tests.

If you or someone you know has been charged with an OWI-related offense, call Petit & Dommershausen for legal assistance today at (920) 739-9900.

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School District Choice: Who makes it?

So, you and your significant other separated and have a joint custody/joint placement order. Sharing placement has been relatively calm but now your child needs to start school.  The two of  you live in different school districts so who gets to choose the school district?

Under Wisconsin statutes, joint legal custody means that the parents share major decision making. Neither parent’s rights are superior. Major decisions include consent to marry, consent to enter military service, consent to obtain a driver’s license, authorize non-emergency healthcare, choice of school, and choice of religion. The presumption in Wisconsin is that joint legal custody is in the best interest of your child.

The sooner you start this discussion with your former significant other, the better. August is not the time to start discussing this. Most counties will require the parents to go to mediation first. Mediation is with a neutral third party who tries to help you work through the issues that you are having. This is the least expensive alternative. If at mediation you cannot reach an agreement, a motion will need to be filed with the court.

The court does not decide which school the child will go to; however, the court does decide which parent gets the right to make that choice. After a motion is filed, it will be set for an initial hearing. If you have already been to mediation on the issue, the court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem. A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who does an investigation and looks into the best interest of your child and makes a recommendation to the court. If, after a Guardian ad Litem recommendation, the parties can reach an agreement or the court makes an order. If the parties are in disagreement with that order, the matter can be set for a trial. Mediation can often take a few months as can the Guardian ad Litem process. Therefore, the sooner this important decision is discussed and a motion filed, the better off you and your child will be.

If you need help with this process, please contact Petit & Dommershausen today and speak to one of our experienced family law attorneys. With three convenient locations in Oshkosh, the Appleton area, and Green Bay, we serve all of northeast Wisconsin including Outagamie, Winnebago, Waupaca, Calumet, Brown, Oconto, Marinette, and Fond do Lac counties.

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Estate Plans/Will Reviews? When should I review my plan?


How often should you review your estate planning?  If you have a complex estate, you should review your plan on a biannual basis but it is always a good idea to review your plan after any life changing event occurs. Here is a quick reference on times you should definitely review and revise your plans:

  1. Marriage. It is very important to update estate planning documents to modify any name changes and to include your new spouse.  This includes your will, powers of attorneys and all beneficiary designations on life insurance and retirement plans.
  • The birth or adoption of a child. In the case of a birth or adoption, you will want to create or update your will.  You will need to include the child and likely to name a guardian of both the child and the estate if you should pass. The birth of grandchildren is also a time to review your wishes.  If one of your children should pass away, do you want your remaining children to split your estate or do you want the grandchild to get their parents’ portion?
  • Divorce. If you divorce, you will want to update your will and/or estate plan as soon as possible to remove your ex-spouse.
  • When a child or grandchild turns 18 years old. Your child or even a grandchild turning 18 might spark some changes to your will and/or estate plan. Upon turning 18, a child is now able to act as a power of attorney.  It might also be a good idea to think about a will and/or estate planning documents for the now legal adult child or grandchild.  Your adult child should have estate planning documents even if they don’t have an estate.  Power of Attorneys are very important if something like a car accident were to occur so that a parent can continue making choices for their child without Court intervention.
  • Changes in relationships. It’s easy for relationships with family and friends to change over time. Review your beneficiaries, representatives, guardians, trustees or executors to see if any relationships have changed or if the person listed is still capable of acting in such a role.
  • Serious Illness, death or disability of a spouse or child. In the case of disability or a long-term illness of your spouse or child, you will want to meet with an attorney to ensure that your estate plan properly names and protects you and your family.
  • Estate value changes.  Your estate has had a significant change in value either up or down!
  • Retirement.   You plan on retiring in the next few years.
  • Three to five years has passed since you last updated your documents. Even if you have a simple plan and you think that nothing has changed, we recommend having our estate planning attorneys review your documents every few years to ensure that not only are your documents in order but that nothing has dramatically changed in the law that could negatively affect your family’s future.

Let Petit & Dommershausen help you.  We have three convenient locations in Oshkosh, Appleton and Green Bay.  Serving all of Northeast Wisconsin including Outagamie, Winnebago, Waupaca, Calumet, Brown, Oconto, Marinette and Fond du Lac counties.

Contact Petit & Dommershausen today at 920-739-9900 for all your estate planning needs!

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Legal Podcast Review with Attorney LaFond

We’ve all listened to the podcast Serial at this point (if you haven’t do you live under a rock?), so what’s next on your morning/evening commute? For all you true crime lovers out there, here are a few reviews of some of my favorites. Comment on this post today with your recommendations for me as I drive through Wisconsin defending the rights of the accused.

My Favorite Murder
If you enjoy comedic relief AND true crime, this is the podcast for you. Karen and Georgia spend each episode discussing a murder of their choice (usually for no rhyme or reason). The discussions are filled with their blatant opinions and sometimes too inappropriate commentary but there won’t be an episode where you aren’t laughing uncontrollably and/or gasping in horror and disbelief. Karen and Georgia are so entertaining that they have spent the last couple years touring the world doing live shows. They are coming to Milwaukee in May for two shows, and sorry, they were both sold out in seconds so you’ll have to get your fix from your favorite podcast app. But seriously check it out. This podcast is one of a kind!

Q: Is this REALLY a true crime podcast or is this just a comedy podcast with a true crime twist?

A: Well, yes it’s a true crime podcast in a sense that the hosts discuss real cases, but no in a sense that they actually know what they are talking about. Karen and Georgia make a point to tell the listeners that they don’t do a lot of research and don’t have any background in the field. In fact Karen is actually a comedian so that explains why this podcast often gets categorized that way. This podcast also doesn’t explore the court system and what happens to cases once they get there so if that’s what you are looking for try one of my other recommendations.

In the Dark
So far there are two seasons of this podcast and I really hope that there will be more. APM reports presents two separate cases that have brought on questions by many. The first season explores police and investigative errors that led to a case being unsolved for 27 years. The second season explores the same topics, but brings it into the court system to try and unpack how one defendant could be subjected to 7 trials and 6 reversals on appeal over a 20 year period. Both seasons present serious social and political issues that impact how our criminal justice system functions (or doesn’t function). Stay tuned for upcoming additions to season 2 as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case of Curtis Flowers (subject of season 2) to determine whether or not the prosecutor racially discriminated in jury selection; thus depriving Mr. Flowers of his constitutional right to fair trial.

Q: Is this podcast a genuine representation of the criminal justice system?

A: Yes. A lot of research and work goes into each one of these episodes. The host is an investigative journalist and she has a whole team of researchers and investigators that assist in the behind the scenes work. They even conduct studies through the podcast to further their knowledge. If you are looking for a true and accurate representation of how a case moves through the system from start to finish, this is a podcast to add to your queue.

Sword & Scale
This podcast came out my first year as a lawyer, so as I was driving, representing clients in courts across the state, I downloaded a few episodes at the recommendation of a colleague just to see what it was all about. She warned me to only listen if I had thick skin—which is essentially a warning that the host Mike gives in nearly every episode. Sword & Scale has covered some of the most interesting and shocking criminal masterminds and cases that I had ever heard of. And what makes Sword & Scale stand out from some of the other similar podcasts is the amount of “real” case material that is actually used. Sword & Scale plays the 911 calls, the interrogation of the suspects, and the follow up interviews with witnesses that you are dying to hear. Each episode is carefully laid out and prepared. To this day it is the one podcast that I download the latest episode of the very second it comes out. Sword & Scale offers early access and supplemental episodes to patreon supporters but if you have student loans like I do, you’ll have to wait the two weeks and avoid the online spoilers!

Q: I hate how true crime podcasts seem to focus on the perpetrators, does this podcast discuss the victims at all?

A: Yes. Each episode is different in format; there will be episodes that focus on a perpetrator or suspect but there are also episodes that are dedicated to the victims of the heinous crimes described. Several episodes include interviews with family members of victims. Sword and Scale is a nice balance for true crime lovers who often feel that a victim’s story is never told or is even forgotten.

Interested in learning more about the Law? Attorney Britteny LaFond at Petit & Dommershausen, SC, is routinely out in the Northeast Wisconsin community serving her clients and staying connected. Contact the firm today to learn more.

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Relocating with a Child after a Divorce or Paternity Judgment

The State of Wisconsin has recently updated its laws and procedures regarding how a parent is to obtain a court’s approval to relocate with a child that is subject to an order granting periods of physical placement to both parents, as well as the procedures that a parent opposing such a move will have to follow. The new procedures are outlined in Wisconsin Statutes Section 767.481, and important features of the new law include:

-A moving parent must now seek court approval by filing a motion to move a child more than 100 miles from the other parent, rather than 150 miles as the law had been previously written (unless the parents already live more than 100 miles apart). This distance threshold applies whether or not the moving parent is moving out of state with the child.

-A parent objecting to a proposed move must file and serve, at least 5 days in advance of the initial hearing, an objection to the proposal and any alternate proposal that he or she may have.

-The court will schedule an initial hearing within 30 days after the motion has been filed. If a parent is objecting to the proposed move, the parents will likely be referred to mediation, and a guardian ad litem will be appointed by the court to conduct an investigation if the parents still cannot agree after the mediation process. A final hearing on the matter will then be held within 60 days, and the court may issue a temporary order to allow a child to be moved pending the final hearing if the court determines that the move is in a child’s best interest.

If you have questions regarding placement and child custody, please call Petit & Dommershausen at (920) 739-9900 for a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney.

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Domestic Enhancers: Explanation & Consequences

As a local criminal defense attorney, this is by far the most common question I get: why am I being charged with domestic abuse for a verbal argument with my significant other? I don’t blame anyone for asking this question because it is confusing, so I’ll clear it up for you today.

In Wisconsin, any offense committed against a present or former spouse, against an adult with whom the person resides with presently or formerly, or against an adult with whom the person has a child in common, is by definition a domestic abuse incident. Wis. Stat. 968.075.

Let’s break that down a little bit with an example or two. Bob divorced his wife Lisa in 2002. They run into each other at Country USA in 2016 and a fight ensues. Even though Bob and Lisa are no longer in a “domestic” relationship by common definition, they still fall within the definition under Wisconsin statutes. As a result, both Bob and Lisa are charged with Domestic Battery. A second example: Sue and Stan share custody of their 3 year old son. During a drop off at a public park, Sue yells at Stan in a profane manner. Guests of the park are offended and contact the authorities. Sue is charged with Domestic Disorderly Conduct. Because Sue and Stan share a child, they have a domestic relationship.

Now that we understand what qualifies as domestic abuse in Wisconsin, let’s talk about the consequences of this qualification. There are two primary consequences of the domestic abuse enhancer in Wisconsin. First is that in the event of a conviction, there’s a mandatory domestic abuse surcharge the individual will be required to pay. Presently the surcharge is $100 for each domestic offense but as we all know these costs can change at any time. The second primary consequence is that if an individual has two separate prior domestic offenses, they are considered a domestic abuse repeater for the third (and all subsequent offenses). Why this matters is because the enhancer for a domestic repeater actually changes the maximum penalties for the offense and, if the offense in question is only a misdemeanor, if the person is a domestic abuse repeater the status changes from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Do you need legal assistance with a domestic offense? Attorney Britteny LaFond and the rest of the legal team at Petit & Dommershausen is here to help. Call 920-739-9900 for your confidential consultation.