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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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How much will a Child Support Attorney cost?

Cost considerations are an important factor in the selection of any good or service. Making an informed choice necessarily includes an assessment of possible costs. These questions often are raised when considering hiring a lawyer to assist with a child support matter.

Child Support Lawyer from the Child Support Agency

Many folks first experience with a lawyer connected to a child support case is the lawyer who works with and for the county child support agency. You should be aware, that lawyer is not a lawyer representing you. That lawyer may advocate for you to receive child support, but the lawyer does not owe a client duty to you. That lawyer is a representative of the county and its child support agency in its capacity as an advocate for children.

While it may save some legal fees in the short term to handle a matter on your own and let the attorney from the child support agency do all the talking and legal work, it may not be in your interest. You have the right to a lawyer to assist you and be your representative.

Child Support Attorney Fees

Child Support attorney fees can be based on either a per-hour or flat-fee basis. To find out more about child support attorneys and how much they cost, continue reading.

Reasons to Hire a Child Support Attorney

Before we get to how much it may cost, lawyers will often need to understand the type of case and the legal work that may be necessary. There are certain circumstances that we advise you strongly consider hiring an attorney.

  • Establishing paternity. If Dad is on the birth certificate, that may just be the first step in the process. A child support hearing may be scheduled, but at that hearing additional important legal issues may be considered by the court. The court will presume you are able to handle these issues regardless of whether you have consulted an attorney. The issues for review may be Child Legal Custody, Child Placement, Child Support, Variable Expenses, Birthing Expenses, and numerous other issues.
  • Child Support matters with variable income. Is a parent self employed? Works a few jobs? Changes jobs frequently? These additional areas of complexity require additional legal analysis that may not be completed at your hearing.
  • Need to Modify an existing agreement or order. If changes are needed, the court may require a specific legal showing to occur before it even considers the need for a change. In these cases, a lawyer may be able to present law and facts that may meet the court’s expectations and then also necessitate a change in support.
  • Collecting outstanding child support. Does a parent owe back support? In those circumstances, a lawyer can assist in understanding how a back amount is calculated and how it may be resolved.

But How Much Does It Cost?

Short answer = it depends. A consultation with a lawyer would get you the best understanding of the potential costs. It may be far more affordable that you think.

The ultimate costs depend on your circumstances, the parents placement arrangements, the other areas of dispute between the parties, and the conflict level. If some of the circumstances described above are present plus a high level of conflict, legal costs can be high. It may be in a parent’s interests to negotiate, but that doesn’t always happen.

At Petit & Dommershausen, SC, we pride ourselves on good legal service and a transparent billing process. Our lawyers will directly outline the nature of our representation agreements and the retention costs. Once we are on board as your lawyers, you will be kept up to date with all financial circumstances and our Office Manager and staff will be happy to respond to additional inquiries.

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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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Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

What is a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?

A judge or circuit court commissioner may grant an injunction, also known as a restraining order, that orders a person to refrain from committing acts of domestic abuse against the petitioner, to avoid the petitioner’s residence, or any other location temporarily occupied by the petitioner or both, or other remedies under law.

A Court may grant such an injunction if all of the following occur:1. The petitioner files a petition alleging the necessary elements 2. The petitioner serves upon the respondent a copy or summary of the petition and notice of the time for hearing on the issuance of the injunction, or the respondent serves upon the petitioner notice of the time for hearing on the issuance of the injunction.3. After hearing, the judge or circuit court commissioner finds reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has engaged in, or based upon prior conduct of the petitioner and the respondent may engage in, domestic abuse of the petitioner.

What is domestic abuse?

Wisconsin Statutes for the Entry of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order provide the following definitions. 

“Domestic abuse” means any of the following engaged in by an adult family member or adult household member against another adult family member or adult household member, by an adult caregiver against an adult who is under the caregiver’s care, by an adult against his or her adult former spouse, by an adult against an adult with whom the individual has or had a dating relationship, or by an adult against an adult with whom the person has a child in common:1. Intentional infliction of physical pain, physical injury or illness.2. Intentional impairment of physical condition.3. A violation of s. 940.225 (1)(2) or (3).4. A violation of s. 940.32.5. A violation of s. 943.01, involving property that belongs to the individual.6. A threat to engage in the conduct under subd. 1.2.3.4., or 5.(b)

“Dating relationship” means a romantic or intimate social relationship between 2 adult individuals but “dating relationship” does not include a casual relationship or an ordinary fraternization between 2 individuals in a business or social context. A court shall determine if a dating relationship existed by considering the length of the relationship, the type of the relationship, and the frequency of the interaction between the adult individuals involved in the relationship.

“Family member” means a spouse, a parent, a child or a person related by blood or adoption to another person.(c) 

“Household member” means a person currently or formerly residing in a place of abode with another person.(ce) 

“Reasonable grounds” means more likely than not that a specific event has occurred or will occur.(cj) 

Do you need legal assistance with a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?

Attorney Nathan J. Wojan and the rest of the legal team at Petit & Dommershausen is here to help. Call 920-739-9900 for your confidential consultation. We have assisted many people through these difficult proceedings and we can help you.

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Paternity Law In Wisconsin

DECLARATION OF PATERNAL INTEREST

Don’t let your parental rights be terminated without your knowledge!!

Do you believe someone you slept with could be carrying your child?  If so, do you want to be notified if the mom is making the important decision to give the child up for adoption? If the answer is yes, you must file a declaration of paternal interest which can be found at: https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/forms/pdf/0019a.pdf

This declaration can be filed as soon as you suspect a child could have been conceived but it must be filed either 1) before the birth of the child  2) within 14 days after the birth of the child or 3) if the possible father receives notice under Wisconsin Statute 48.42(1g)(b) that the mother of a child under the age of one is seeking to voluntarily terminate her parental rights and has identified him as the father. 

If it is not filed, any potential father’s rights could be terminated and the child could be placed for adoption with only a tiny notice published in a local paper!

This filing is confidential and can only be used by children’s court proceedings.

Filing a declaration of paternal interest does not establish parental rights to a child. The potential father will need to take further action to establish and protect his rights and responsibilities as a father!!

Need help?? Contact Petit & Dommershausen today at 920-739-9900!

With three convenient locations in Oshkosh, Appleton 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

Grandparent Rights in Wisconsin

Most states allow at least some form of grandparent visitation, after a determination as to whether scuh visitation is in the best interests of the child. This inquiry can vary vastly from county to county and Judge to Judge. At Petit & Dommershausen, we guide you thru the process to get grandparents a great outcome.  Learn more about Grandparent’s Rights below.

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. However, in certain circumstances, Wisconsin law allows grandparents to have reasonable visitation with a grandchild, even if it’s against the parent’s wishes.

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 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. Grandparent visitation is almost always granted in cases where grandparents have had a strong relationship with the child and death or divorce has disrupted the child’s nuclear family unit.
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, S.C. 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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Back to School Tips for Divorcing Parents

As the school year begins again, co-parenting issues often come to a boiling point.  Here are some tips to try and co-parent in a more effective and efficient manner in the days ahead. Otherwise, you and your ex will be in and out of court asking the court to order solutions which cause your child will suffer feeling the stress from disagreeing parents. The goal is making school go as smoothly as possible for your child.

  1. Use a shared calendar. It can be a google calendar, through Our Family Wizardor any other calendar that works for you. Through the shared calendar you can share information about extracurricular activities and school project deadlines. If you do not have the same weekdays each week you can mark when sneakers are needed for gym class and what day their library book needs to be returned.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the electronic communication options with the school. Most school districts around here have online portals with your child’s information. Try to get two separate logins. If only one login is allowed, share the password with the other parent so you both can receive the information directly. It is better to have equal access than to be responsible for communicating the information directly. This way each parent is responsible for getting their own information and cannot accuse you of withholding information.
  3. Let the teacher know both parents’ email addresses. Ask them to email both of you when sending out announcements or emails about any concerns they have about your child. Copy the other parent on your communications back to the teacher.
  4. Prepare your child’s teacher. Before the first day of school, and to minimize confusion and uncomfortable remarks, inform your child’s teachers of their family situation. Give them an overview of the child’s routines—who’ll be dropping them off and picking them up on which days, and where they’ll be staying each night. Giving teachers this information up front not only provides them with some context for any emotional issues that may come up, but it also allows them to plan ahead. Perhaps they’ll proceed with more sensitivity when it comes to those “My Family” projects that can sometimes be painful for kids of divorce.
  5. Let the other parent know when your child is home sick and whether any make-up work needs to be coordinated.
  6. Try to attend parent-teacher conferences together. While sometimes this is not possible because the parents cannot get along well enough to be in the same room and the conference will not be productive, if you can, attend the conference together so that both parents can be on the same page and can hear the teacher’s response to each of the parent’s concerns.
  7. Discuss school projects and who is going to take the lead on what part of the project. Lack of coordination puts stress on the child (and each parent’s household). The child suffers the most in this situation.
  8. Be proactive. If you see a slip in grades or any other changes in your child that you think may be associated with the situation at home, talk to the school guidance counselor and consider counseling for the child and/or co-parenting counseling for the parents.
  9. Take your past issues out of equation. This is not about you, it is about your child and their successful school year.

Need help with your custody and placement issues?  Contact Petit & Dommershausen today 920-739-9900! With three convenient locations in Oshkosh, Appleton 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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WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER MEDIATING YOUR DIVORCE

Divorce Mediation

Divorce can be emotionally, financially, and physically stressful. Divorce mediation is a way to reduce stress. While protracted litigation is necessary in some cases, for many people, mediation is an effective alternative that allows you to reach an agreement in the least stressful way. In a divorce mediation, a neutral mediator assists a divorcing couple in arriving at a mutually acceptable agreement. While emphasizing cooperative problem solving, it is non-adversarial and gives you more control over the issues that matter most to you, such as child custody, placement and division of assets. Many people find that mediation helps the parties maintain cooperation both during and after the divorce. The following are some of the benefits to mediation:

  1. You control the results. You and your spouse decide the terms of your agreement – not the Court, not divorce attorneys, and not a Guardian ad Litem. Important decisions about your children, your finances, and your future are not in the hands of anyone but you.
  1. Non-adversarial. Mediation focuses on creative and cooperative problem solving and tries to address everyone’s needs. We try to resolve any outstanding issues by communicating and discussing instead of arguing. This allows you to work as a team to have a stronger possibility of reaching a mutually satisfying agreement.
  1. There is greater confidentiality involved. All communications and documents associated with the mediation process are confidential, as are all discussions had with the mediators. This is not true of litigation as anything that is discussed is fair game in the courtroom.
  1. Your children are more protected from conflict. This allows your children not to be exposed to tension, additional stress and other signs of the continuing conflict between their parents. This also allows them not to be interviewed by a Guardian ad Litem and/or the custody study evaluators. Divorce mediators help you focus on your children’s needs as you try to reach a custody and placement agreement.
  1. Get divorced faster. Instead of having to wait for hearing dates, depositions and the discovery process, many parties are able to resolve their case more efficiently and thus get divorced faster. This way, you are able to move on to the next chapter of your life more quickly.
  1. Post-divorce communication is better. During the mediation process, the parties are required to talk as they work towards a consensus on important issues. This ability to talk through issues and cooperate will have a positive long-term impact on your future co-parenting skills, which obviously benefits your children.

If you think that you and your spouse could possibly, with the help of a third-party mediator, work through your issues, mediation could be the right strategy for you. The experienced and compassionate attorneys at Petit & Dommershausen can help you address the ending of your marriage in a supportive, non-confrontational environment. Please call Attorney Tajara Dommershausen 920-739-9900, today to learn more about the divorce mediation process.  You can learn more at pdlawoffice.com

 

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Trying to Move with Joint Custody of a Child?

[Editor’s Note: The Law has changed. Please consult with a professional at Petit & Dommershausen for additional information. New blog post forthcoming.]

Parents Should Know

In Wisconsin, if parents share custody and physical placement, you have to provide the other parent with at least 60 days’ written notice if you want to move out of state with the child, move at least 150 miles away from the other parent within the state, or take the child out of state for at least 90 days.

Once the initial notice is provided, the other parent can choose whether or not to object.  If an objection is made, the matter will likely be referred to mediation to try and resolve the dispute.  While the dispute is ongoing, the child cannot be moved unless the court grants permission through a temporary order.  If the dispute still cannot be resolved, the parent opposing the move can file a petition, motion, or order to show cause to modify custody or physical placement of the child, and the court will hold a hearing to determine whether the change is in the best interests of the child.

If the parent seeking to move with the child already has primary physical placement, the court will additionally look at whether or not the proposed move will result in a substantial change in circumstances since the last court order involving placement.  If the parents share substantially equal physical placement, the court will look at whether circumstances make it impractical to continue the current arrangement.

In order to make these determinations, courts are directed to look at specific criteria: whether the purpose of the proposal is reasonable, the child’s relationship with the parent that is objecting to the move and how it would be affected, and the availability of alternate arrangements to continue the child’s relationship with the objecting parent.  The court will also have the option to consider how the child would adjust to the move in terms of the child’s new home, school, religion, and community.

 

If you have further questions related to child custody issues and are seeking legal representation, please contact our firm for a consultation.

 

Attorney Brian Kane practices criminal defense and family law at the Oshkosh office of Petit & Dommershausen, S.C., located at 2001 Bowen Street, Oshkosh, WI 54901.  He can be reached at (920) 231-0699 or briankane@pdlawoffice.com.

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Co-Parenting Tips for a Happy Holiday

Holidays can be a difficult time for divorced or separated families especially when people crave the perfect family event. It can be emotionally gut wrenching having to split holiday time with your ex and knowing that the person passing the gravy to your kids is not you, but your ex’s new love.  Protect your kids from the stress of their changing family situation this holiday season. Kids are easily influenced and often remember holidays for a lifetime.

Remember the holidays should be all about your kids, NOT YOU!

These experiences, combined with the cultural expectation to have a Hallmark holiday, can send divorced parents into emotional overload. So how do you keep your charged feelings from spilling over onto your kids? Especially at exchanges which can seem like an emotional rollercoaster? Here are some tips for managing holiday drop-offs with true co-parenting grace.

 

  • Try to talk with your ex (if you can’t talk, email or text but in as neutral tone as humanly possible!!). If your children will be traveling, you and your ex must discuss beforehand what they will need to bring. Winter coats? Games they love? A backpack of activities? A favorite stuffed animal?  Bring necessary items to the drop-off. Don’t be passive-aggressive by “forgetting” anything. Similarly, don’t yell at your ex if he didn’t bring what was expected. Protect your children from any transitional snafus by handling the situation like the adult you are and arranging, if possible, to deliver the goods as soon as you can.

 

  • Talk with your children.Younger kids especially can be confused by the change in your usual schedule.  Discuss holiday plans with them beforehand. Assure them that they will get to spend time with both parents and other important family members. Explain this well before the holiday so they have time to process the news and ask questions before drop-off.  Does traveling make them anxious? Would they like to take something along? Games they love?  A backpack of activities? A favorite stuffed animal?  Help your children transition easier.

 

  • Be on time.Do not be late! If your child is worried about how he’s spending the holiday, rushing to get her to your ex’s will only increase her anxiety. And don’t purposely dawdle. It doesn’t matter how much you hate your ex; your children deserve to arrive to a holiday gathering – or an airport – on time. Remember: ruining the holiday for your ex will also ruin it for your kids.

 

  • Keep your feelings in check. No matter how sad or angry you may feel, you must pull yourself together before and during your placement exchange. This means no crying, no angry words with your ex, no hostile body language. Your composure will make the exchange easier on your kids. It will also model to them how to resolve conflict and manage tough situations. If you must fall apart, do it as you drive away or when you’re alone, or with your therapist.

 

  • Take care of yourself – Kids are often reflections of our own moods. If you can be calm, they’ll be more likely to be calm – and we all know the reverse is true too! So be kind to yourself. Exercise, eat healthy food, get good sleep, enjoy close friends, meditate, pray, relax.

 

  • Don’t prolong drop-off. If your kids are crying, do not use this as an opportunity either to gloat or to seek reassurance from them that they will miss you. Assure your children that you love them, wish them a happy holiday with your ex, and remind them when they will be with you next. Do NOT have a prolonged farewell! If they’re nervous or upset about their time away from you, engineering a long goodbye will only make them feel more anxious. You do not want to communicate, through words or body language, that this is a scary time, or that they have to tend to your feelings. An appropriate exit is much more tolerable for them than an angst-ridden, ambivalent one.

Try to take the high road. A smooth exchange will signal to your children that it’s okay to have a good time with their other parent. It doesn’t matter how big a jerk you think your ex is. Your children deserve to enjoy their holiday.

Above all, give your kids permission to love their other parent and their family. They are connected to their other family and your kids should not have to hide it from you.

If you need help with your custody issues, contact a family law attorney at Petit & Dommershausen, located in Menasha and Oshkosh.

You can reach our Fox Valley attorneys at 920-739-9900 or our Oshkosh attorneys at 920-231-0699.

Petit & Dommershausen wishes everyone a wonderful holiday season.