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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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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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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 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.